In the mono-cropped suburbs of Phoenix I suffer from the sameness, wondering at what it is that makes an American feel safe inside the asphalt. Whole Foods, Home Depot, Costco, Kinko's, Ross. Whole Foods, Home Depot, Costco, Kinko's, Ross. Whole Foods, Home Depot, Costco, Kinko's, Ross. I know there is soil somewhere beneath the concrete casing, but what else is beneath it, quietly waiting? What art is frozen there, what revolutionary ideas? No, creativity can't germinate here.
And now we're in Sedona, at a campsite by a creek. The wilting songs in me have sprung back to life. The sun is playing on the current as it swells around some pebbles. Tonight we play at a chocolatisserie where the seats are hammocks hung from pinion trees! Oh, the variety of each day's work! The variety of every friend that rises up from the crowd to throw their arms around you -- your souls have already met in the ether between the stage and the seating. They shook hands hours ago when the lights dimmed, and everyone tuned in, and the notes let go from the throats and the hands, and the words tore from the band like a page from The Real Book.
Yes, you've got new friends before you step off stage, and they open their home, and their innermost hopes, and seeing that you are a collector of dreams, ignite, sharing unique perspective and insight. Every deal is cut with trust, and every move with wanderlust, and here, come with me I know the ropes, I work the boats, you don't get sea-sick, do you? And now it's a new place, and we're meeting hopeful eyes on another new face, songs by a fire in the Midwestern plains, peacocks barking operatic and shrill, smoke swirling up to the crisp stars.
It's so nice to meet you. You need a ride? Come with us. Bring your instrument. Share the front seat with me. Here. Put your foot here and we'll all fit. Stuff the ukelele up on the dash, or hold it in your lap. In your lap on my lap. Sorry, it smells like dirty clothes in here. Can you grab the steering wheel while I take a bite of this burrito? Mexican is the only local shop on this stop. Hey, on this one, too. Where's the main strip? It's all corporate bullshit except the main strip. Whole Foods, Home Depot, Costco, Ross. Look, there's a Mexican joint, a bean burrito is always a safe bet. No, don't get gas yet, we can make it to the next gig. This one's a theater, we'll sell some schwag. Get a good tank tomorrow. Promoter said it took 'em two days to set up the lighting rig. Jesus! We just need one condenser mic, that's all.
Gentleman in line wanted to know what kind of guitar I play. I told him it was a fancy case for a rifle. Think you can beat that bully with your banjo? Just if we need to, of course. Alright, let's hit it, sister. We're late for sound check, we'll run those harmonies in the car. Think you can swing it this time without a chart? Here, let's cut that one from the set list til we've got it just right. There go the stage lights, the dust is streaming up from the dance floor, burning up on the blue bulbs. I can't see anyone but the girl in the front row with the cell phone glow on her forehead. Her eyes are illuminated vacancies traced with red. Look, lady, we could be friends. Turn off, tune in. There we are, now we're starting to win 'em. They're holding their breath, you can hear a pin drop, that's what my mom always said. Kiss the mic, honey, let me hear your words, now. Enunciate. Smile more. Don't stop smiling unless you're singing about dying. Show them your soul. With you mouth closed they can't see it, and they sure as hell can't hear it. That sounds stiff. Slur it. Take a bigger breath, resonate, make it all the way through the end of the phrase. You'll feel it a few bars in, even if you start out fakin' it. There it is. Three hours sleep can't compete with this adrenalin. Bearded boy by the ticket booth says he lives in a tree house. Wanta see it? Sure, let me pack up the merch case, there's nobody buying CDs -- already they've forgotten we made 'em feel that way.
They're all at the bar now, spending their money on something they can taste. Your order's up, Frank! Frank! Your order's up. These days people don't spend much on their ears. The waiter drops the plate on the table like a turd in a toilet. Shit man, I wouldn't eat that. Can you pay us fifty extra instead of this drink tab? Dude in the corner just gave us an eighth of pot and high-tailed it out the door. Didn't even tell me his name. Said he liked the song about "Turn Myself in Monday." Car's all packed now. No, we aren't sisters. Sure does feel like it, though. Thanks for having us, see you in six months. Yes, it's a D-35. Bye now.
Gig tomorrow's in a barn, the Dobro player said Pete Seeger lives down the street. He's pickin' us up at the station in Easton. No, not Pete Seeger. The Dobro player. His name's Dave. Ah, I can't believe it! I lost the ticket. Sir, I just bought the ticket two minutes ago. It must have fallen out of my pocket, see how loose my pockets are? Ok, pass the instruments up, there's room on this luggage rack back here. No, no Mam', we can't check them. Look, this guitar was my old man's, OK? It's the only thing I care about in the whole world. Yes, it'll fit, I promise. I've put it up there a million times. Gentleman in the seat behind wants to know what kind of music we play. I don't know, man, go to the website. here's a sticker. Yeah, a stupid sticker. I don't know where to put it either, I put 'em on my old man's guitar case, show him I've been all over the place just like him. But if I didn't play guitar, I don't know what I'd do with it. Toss it out, probably. Or put it in a bathroom stall, or give it to a kid. The city scape is flying by the window. Whole Foods, Home Depot, Costco, Kincos, Ross. Construction. Trash stuck in the rail road ties. Branches. Brush. Branches. Shadows. Light. Shadows. Light. Shadows.
Negatives on a reel.
Gig tomorrow's in a barn, where a thousand hats are hanging on the walls. I bet Dave will sit in with us for a tune, he and I used to play four days a week in Harvard Square, at this Irish Pub. Til the owner found out I wasn't 21. That was the end of that gig! I lived in Mission Hill then, by all the hospitals. The sirens came right in, kept me company. No, go ahead, get some rest. I know you've been carrying that 40 pound banjo baby all around the city. I used to lug my guitar up a big old hill and four flights of stairs. Always outta wind when I got to the top. But I felt like my dad, never went anywhere without my guitar, just like him. No, I know. Get some rest. We'll be up late tonight. Dan's a crazy cat, man. He plays everything but the tuba, even plays the tractor. I swear. This jam'll last til sunrise.
We live in the in-betweens, you and me. When they're working, we're sleeping. When they're playing, we're working. When they're sleeping, we're playing. Under a set of stars so sharp you could cut your forehead on them. Oh, I'd love to sing that one! Let me try. Jeeze, I don't think I can remember it. My finger's can't find the frets. Songs die, you know, if you don't play them. You gotta play them or they die. I gotta whole new crop now, try this one. You'll like this one. You said you want an autograph?!? Nah, man, you don't want an autograph. We're just buds. Who the hell invented the autograph?
And then it all slams to a stop.
You're smacked in the face with the stillness while doing something like watching a spider squirm inside a mason jar on the south window sill.
You're doing something like dusting off books, or watching a square pool of light crawl across the tile floor and shift into a diamond as the day dies
You're standing at the kitchen window drinking tea while a bobcat stalks through the garden at dusk
You're seeing the spotlight moon rise through a stage curtain of clouds, listening to the typewriter-striking-the-paper sound. It's just like the slow clap of a solitary audience member in Fresno, that gig you played last week and a thousand million years ago
For more short stories written by Gabrielle Louise, please visit her Cowbird Diary.
An Exercise Program!
Since I've got July off in this little crooked house -- and thankfully it didn't burn down last week with the Walker Ranch Wildfire a few miles from here -- I have decided to go on an exercise program to keep my music muscles from melting while off the road.
I'm committing to cover a song every day. Each week will have a theme - kicking things of with Mr. Tom Waits. A Tom Waits song a day and then come next Monday I'll choose a new artist to pay tribute to. Ahhh...so many....Susan Werner, Eliza Gilkyson, Mark Knopfler, Emmylou, Patty Griffin, Patty Larkin, Beth Wood, Eli West, Miss Welch....
So let the list begin! I'll learn them day-by-day, kickin' it off with "I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love With You."
Week July 16th to 22nd: Susan Werner
Monday - Because I'm Bad
Tuesday -I Can't Be New
Wednesday -I'm Not Sure
Thursday - Late For The Dance
Friday -Barbed Wire Boys
Saturday - Time Between Trains
Sunday - Let's Regret This in Advance
Week July 2nd to July 9th to 15th: Emmylou Harris
Monday - Red Dirt Girl (Emmylou Harris)
Tuesday - The Connection (Randy Sharp and Jack Routh)
Wednesday - Abraham, Martin and John (Dick Holler)
Did you know that before 1970 they didn't manufacture a key for the exclamation mark on typewriters? Yup. I guess people back then didn't get so excited as I do now when I have a new song day! (New song days are my favourite days.) You can sneak around this little hiccup by typing period, backspace and apostrophe. I still can't find the missing 1 key, though. All counting starts with 2 from here on out.
It's really cold in this house. There's a two by two foot space that my guitar and I can occupy - in between the typewriter and the stove. A grandpa sweater is mandatory.
I've been sitting here for a couple days now because on Friday is a big show that I've been practicing for. It's a preview event for the Colorado Environmental Film Festival, and I'll be entertaining in between live director's commentary and trailers, sort of like an awards show.
One of the six environmentally themed films that we'll be highlighting at this event is called "Arise," a movie by two local film-makers who are a mother-daughter team. (Some may remember that I used to perform in a mother-daughter duo when I was a teen.) At any rate, I find the title of the film to be inspiring.
Below are the lyrics that resulted today when I thought about what that word meant from my perspective.
I'll also share with you a little demo I made on a kind of virtual tape recorder. Since it's not mastered or mixed or anything of the sort, I highly recommend listening on speakers as opposed to phones or computers.
Fondly! (With all the exclamation a modern day computer can provide.)
Old mother Piñon Tree bends her back resiliently, a fraction of what I used to be, I stand beside her. Her branches are bare and thin, her youth is weathered in the wind. From the canyon that we're standing in, I can't see the horizon.
I take a seat and start to cry, we talk awhile, the Piñon tree and I. I validate her fears and she does mine. Her pride is uncompromising.
I leave the woe behind by fantasizing flight. I'm so heavy in my agony piece by piece it buries me til' I'm bound, bound, bound like the Piñon tree.
I lay my heart down like a seed, cover it in crackling leaves. Time turns Winter into Spring, but nothing rises. Though I water it with daily tears, love will never grow from fear. One day I'll just walk away from here! Feels like I'm dying...
I leave the woe behind by fantasizing flight. I'm so heavy in my agony piece by piece it buries me til' I'm bound, bound, bound bound, bound, bound! til' I'm bound, bound, bound like the Piñon tree.
Butchering Banality: Tour Stories
Touring solo makes for such a vulnerable and open state of mind. I'm so grateful for the experiences I've had. The mishaps and melancholy included.
No, no...melancholy isn't the right word. I've abandoned that. I put it all down in the history books, in the sonic scrapbook of making records, and I've assumed a new identity as an enthusiast. You cannot drown out the drunkenness of wine with more wine. You have to choose another vice. You cannot drown out heartbreak with disenchantment. You have to drown it out with life. You can only drown it out with life.
I received a letter recently from someone who wrote that "enthusiasm" derives from the Greek “enthousiazein”, which means to be inspired or possessed by a god, be rapt, be in ecstasy. And yesterday I had a conversation while plastering a strawbail wall with a natural builder who kept going on about humans being emotional "agents" of things. Careful what you're carrying!
The first gig of this tour was a private party. I arrive a bit flustered and promptly set up my equipment. Having hardly settled in, my friend Tonya gave me a lovely introduction and I tried to think of what song might best suit the occasion. I asked how many years the hosting couple had been married. "26!" the elegant looking wife shouted from the audience. "26 years!" I exclaimed. "I'm 26!" I said. And then, "I'm honored to play your 26th wedding anniversary..." and played my short set.
Afterwords an unafraid audience member informed me it was a retirement party.
At all times we walk along a narrow pathway between two precipices. On one side is disaster, and on the other: our dreams. All we have to do is choose which way we want to fall. Fortunately for humanity, there is love on both sides. Unfortunately for humanity, most people do not choose either direction. They tiptoe ever forward on the tedious tightrope of uncertainty.
They didn't let it bug them, so I didn't let it bug me, and dug into the barbecue they'd catered the party with. All the time I was singing I had been watching three little girls run around the yard in princess dresses. Oh, how I miss princess dresses! I get away with a lot of things on stage, but an outright princess dress is hard to pull off these days.
While I'm eating my barbecue they approach in mass: "Do you know Mamma Mia?" they ask. "Oh my God, I LOVE ABBA!" We're instant best friends. We choreograph a dance to show their parents. Amelia and Gina I would guess to be around 7 or 8. Little Caroline is definitely 4 and follows her older sister's instructions impeccably. Her little feet are tapping to the subdivision of the beat I'm snapping. Their choreography involves a lot of spinning.
After the dance performance I loose my keys and the host gives most of the party flashlights to help me look in the front and back yards. They must have been stockpiling them for the end of the world, or at least for that very moment when a blondie songwriter forgets to put her key on a key chain. A serious swarm of flashlights are combing the property on a treasure hunt for a single silver key shining in the grass. The girls couldn't be having more fun looking, and even the adults seem amused by the mass of golden orbs dancing around the property on such a lovely summer night. The moon isn't helping much, it's not that time of the month. On my night flight from D.C. a couple weeks ago I watched it scan the surface of the earth like a searchlight, every body of water trembling in it's silvery sight.
"It's darker than the inside of a cow out there!" a man said to me a couple of days later when I went wandering in moonless New Mexico Mountains. Actually, all the insides of cows that I've seen recently have been a very bright red...but I'm getting to that.
When the key turns up the girls announce it with such enthusiasm it's as if they were saying "Jesus has been delivered from the womb!" We lay on a grassy hill and they make figure eights with the flashlights into the tree tops for an impromptu light show. Gina requests I put on my sunglasses for magnified effect. I tilt my head to the right where Caroline is laying in the grass beside me. "Do you want to wear my sunglasses?" little Caroline shakes her head firmly no. Amelia insists. Caroline holds her ground. She does not want to wear sunglasses for the light show.
The host celebrating retirement had worked for Amtrak his entire life. His job was to chase outlaws and hobos who jumped the train. I ended up at a table of older men who shared adventure stories of their youths. All we were missing was the cigar. We each took a turn telling a story. I pulled from my mother's experiences since I didn't have one of my own that could keep pace. The last man to speak, Giddy, was in his 70s and "came from Israel before it was Israel." He had an accent that could charm the socks off anyone, although it desperately needed darning from years in the United States.
He'd originally facilitated his interest in traveling by working on cargo ships. He told a tale about bringing oranges to Britain in the middle of the winter, when it was still awe inspiring to eat an orange from halfway around the world. They'd unload the oranges in crates on a pulley system. He speaks slowly. "We receive a whistle from a man on the ground who catch the crate. At that cue he moves and we drop the crate. Oranges spill into the street. Everywhere! Everyone goes home with oranges!" What a beautiful story, I think. "We always brought an extra crate for this." he says.
He told me how he met his wife in a Great Lakes port town. They were married a few days later in her parent's home. "And..." he starts,"And that was the end of sailing?" I ask. He laughs hysterically, warmly. "And that was the end of sailing."
Giddy gives me a pretty in depth history lesson on the tensions in Israel. I need a map so we pull one up on someone's iphone. "40 years," he says, "and all the great minds in the world," he pauses for effect, "and still nobody can solve this problem in Israel?" A woman I presume to be his wife interrupts us to request he take a look at the kitchen sink. Evidently Giddy has a talent for plumbing. We share a sad look, as we've both been enjoying the conversation tremendously. All the great minds in the world made this instead, I think, looking back down at the illuminated map on the iphone.
I begin driving to the next gig that night at 3:30 am. I pull out of town past police sirens and into the black horizon listening to the Gotan Project. Fresh food and Spanish tapes take me into the paling pre-dawn, and Joni's Morning Morgantown sings me through the sunrise. Every cloud has purpose this morning. A cherub with Beatle's bangs blows smoke-rings. As the clouds shift, cupid begins to fabricate flatulence with his mouth.
I've had so many tires blow out in the last two years I swear to God I don't even flinch when I feel the explosion in the right rear tire. I happen to be right at the exit for Las Vegas, NM. There happens to be a tire shop directly after the off ramp. It also happens to be closed, because it's Sunday.
I hobble at a very slow speed a few miles down the road, driving on the rim exactly like you're not supposed to do. "Carlos' Auto Garage" is the next building I come to, after a gas station and some vacant trailer homes. There isn't much moving in this landscape except the periodic dust storm, but I see some commotion inside the shop.
The garage door is open, so I work my way through a maze of pickup trucks to enter the agape mouth of the strangest scene I've ever seen. Three Mexican men are butchering a cow in the auto shop. I stop to take it in. Half of the ribcage and the rear end are set smack dab in the cement center of the garage floor, where two of the men are shaving off meat slabs and separating them into piles. A dozen tires are strung on a suspended pole transversing the ceiling, and the other half of the ribcage and unidentifiable parts are hanging from ropes tied to that pole. It looks like a strange charm bracelet, the tires and two hundred pounds of red meat dangling like jewelry above our heads. More slabs sit on the bed of a pickup truck, and I'm careful not to step in one of the many pools of blood.
I explain I need a tire changed. I have the tire, I just need someone to put it on the old rim.
"Sure," one of the men say. "But a little later." Obviously they're pretty preoccupied. I explain I've got a gig at 3pm, several hours south of here, and I really need it done right away. "It's Sunday," the man says. "I'm only here on my own business today." His Mexican accent is pretty thick, and I feel myself squinting my eyes and leaning forward when he talks, not wanting to ask him to repeat himself.
But he walks with me to the car anyway to take a look. He says he doesn't know if he can take a tire off an aluminum rim. I think he's trying to scam me because he thinks I don't know about car things, which is basically true, but not completely. I ask him how much it will cost. He says Forty and I say I've only got Twenty Six. I'm kind of being pushy about it. His credit card machine is broken, which is good because my card sports a sticker that says "tarjetas de credito." (I went nuts with Spanish labels last year.) I'd rather he didn't see it because I wouldn't want to come off as a complete gringa stereo-type if I can still cash in now for partial cliche.
That's when I realize I'm wearing wanna-be movie star sunglasses, a nice beige dress and a scarf in the middle of the sinewy August heat waves. I don't look trustworthy.
Well, he's been butchering a bull in an auto shop garage and has blood on his hands. He doesn't look trustworthy. We harden our eyes and have some sort of competition about who can flex their jaw muscles more. "OK," he says, and then appears to be counting. "I'll need five dollars more." So we settle on Thirty One dollars. Really? I'm thinking. Thirty ONE dollars? "Take this for now," I say, and pass him what I've got in cash. "What's your name?" "Brandon," he says in his thick accent. "What kind of music do you play?" Branden asks. "Folk Music." I say.
Brandon moves a few tools around, auto or butcher related I'm not sure, and then fires up his machines. I notice they're listening to the top 40 country station. He fishes out a plastic party chair and presents it to me like a host offering the last clean towel. The only real place to put the chair is on the threshold of the garage and gravel, where I can watch as a bonafied audience member. The other two men continue to cut pieces of meat off of the severed bull body. They've made real progress by the time we return to the garage. "We're just cleaning it up before the real butcher arrives," a man in a white cowboy hat says. I'm amazed he hasn't splattered a single drop of blood on it so far. If he himself isn't the real butcher, considering that kind of precision, I'd be pretty surprised. It looks really good on him with his super dark skin.
I have a lot of questions, like, "How long will the meat feed you?" "All winter." "Can you eat the head?" "Yes." he says. "But we won't." I wouldn't either. It's looking kind of untrustworthy laying on the ground with it's tongue permanently poking fun at them.
The man in the white cowboy hat is the only one who answers my questions. The other man stays alarmingly quiet. He lights a cigarette with a single match. He tosses scraps of unusable meat to stray dogs that have gathered around the garage because of the smell. One scrawny dog grabs a huge hunk in her mouth and disappears into the neighborhood, eight breasts bouncing. "Poor thing," the White-Cowboy-Hat-Man says, "she must have a litter somewhere."
Branden's got his machines all warmed up, and thinks he'll be successful with removing the old tire from the rim, so I move a plastic garbage can (filled with the disposed hide) out of the way and pull my car closer to the garage. The quiet man picks up the beefy bulk of rear end and carries it out of the way, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. He arches his back against the weight lest he drop either of his important cargo on the ground.
He starts jacking up the car while White-Cowboy-Hat-Man tells me that the bull charged at him while he was riding on his ATV. He had to shoot it. The meat is tough, but they'll grind it up.
He shifts his attention to the task at hand "mas bajo?" he asks the quiet man. I tell him I'm studying Spanish. "How do you study?" he asks, "in school?" I tell him I'm learning from tapes, and that I learn songs in Spanish to acquire more vocabulary. Brandon overhears as he's passing Quiet Man the new tire, who's laying on the ground cigarette still smoldering in his mouth. "Play us a song in Spanish!" he insists. The opportunity is too hilarious to pass up. I unzip my guitar from the case in an oddly euphoric fashion and take a seat among the severed cow parts, oily car tools and country music. I play the tango right over the top of that awful top 40 county station. As soon as I'm finished the man fires up the air compressor and starts to inflate the new tire. the man in the white cowboy hat continues to move pieces of meat to their appropriate piles. Everybody is kind of secretly smiling at the strangeness of the morning.
In the end Brandon won't accept the five extra dollars. As I put away my guitar he puts a spare tire in the back of the car. "It's on the house," he says. So, I say--because I'm dying to know--"como es mi Español?!?"
"OK," he says. "Not great."
They ask me to be careful driving. I can see that they actually care. And I swear I can feel them pat the butt of the Z car as I pull out of the garage. I merge onto the interstate and fish out a grapefruit for breakfast. The Gotan project pulses through my blood like my own heartbeat, slack and passionate both. I drive with my knee and peel the fruit peacefully. I'd rather be driving with my knee and playing my ukulele, but I'm worried that maybe I've already used up my good luck for the day. I'm so wrong it's crazy.
I pull into my show right on time. The sun stares at a pool of water and it bursts into a golden flame. Adobe walls warm my being. A second wind like sunrise sprouts inside my eyes. When I feel them on my face like searchlights I try to stop the glow seeping out, but it's no use. Everyone can see I'm enamoured instead of exhausted. "It's been a long day" I explain to my audience anyway.
It's strange, this joy I'm carrying.
I keep thinking about that. And how he only had one match. It seems you only ever have a single match to start a fire.
The Nameless Studio
I'm still shaking my head at the strangeness a full moon brings into Takoma Park, Maryland. Legends turn into living beings, breathing things. The name of an idol glitters before me like silver pendulum swings. Name dropping usually doesn't affect me, but he picked the one stranger I swoon for. I couldn't act normal.
I'm short on sleep.
The studio this week was surreal synergy, gentle energy, laughter and focus. "I Propose a Toast" was the first song we tracked as a group, and it turned out to be an ode to our sleep pattern. I still love seeing the sun on that side of the circle. Even if it's hazy there, rising on adrenalin up through the skyscrapers, a ritual flight taking off and ascending through the atmosphere. Even if I've been a farmer this summer and usually wake up at that hour.
I forgot how constant the rhythm of the East coast is. I felt a bit groggy and alarmed by the cold, hard concrete, the graffiti and rattling steel of the subway.
My flight was late and I couldn't find the car that had been called for, so I took a shuttle in to union station and the 4 to the J to the Kosciusko stop. I'll never forget that stop because I've got some experience with the Kosciusko county jail in Warsaw, Indiana.
On the shuttle I met a drummer named "Reverend Chris." He asked me what kind of guitar I play, mostly because he wants to tell me he plays music too. He was a nice guy, big big curly hair. He played at a bunch of famous clubs and with a bunch of famous people, that's what I remember about him. He asked me what studio I was recording in. I was a little surprised because I didn't have an answer for him. He asked what part of town it was in. I didn't know that either. The address? Nopeee. "Well, how will you go there tomorrow?" he asked.
He was the second individual I met en route. I also met a stand up comic trying to kick smoking. He opened up for Louis CK once. That's what I remember about him. I wish I could remember his name instead of the famous guy's. Anyway, I was playing music in the Milwaukee airport. He wore a black flat brimmed baseball cap and said to me, looking up over the edge of Quit Smoking in Ten Steps, "when you walked over I was thinking... please don't suck."
So I'm on the J, feeling super alive, making up some lyrics...
The train slides out like a snake from it's hole It lets some on, it lets some go A man takes off his glasses, pinches his nose Sinks deeper in his chair and thinks of home. Three girls take photos of themselves with their i phones Businessmen boast of their publishing deal I grin and take it in because it's so raw and so real Brooklyn I can smell what you're cooking from the front of your stairs Brooklyn I can tell you don't like me looking from your mean old sneer Brooklyn At this block party even the babies swear! Brooklyn, lady liberty's showing off her lacy underwear -- Right there in the subway chair...
"There she is!" Echoed down the long, straight stair climbing up to Tim's third story apartment. I don't have a cell phone these days. I don't like the leash. But when I travel now it's a bit awkward. People have to stay up and wait for my arrival, either that or leave the porch light on and the door unlocked- not an option in Brooklyn. We've been working together for 6 years now. We have as much to talk about in our personal lives as we do concerning the record. More. We lose sleep before we even start tracking. Our old and seasoned comradery chills me out immediately. We settle into our favorite conversations, some of which we've had verbatim a dozen times.
He's lived in Bed-Stuy for the majority of the time I've known him. We met in college and started work on the Journey record when we both lived in Boston. Shortly thereafter he moved to Brooklyn and we completed work on the record by taking the China town bus up and down the coast. We talk about tracking Journey in our closets, before he got the job working in a historic Manhattan studio where we worked after hours on Around in Circles. Before they tore down the building with the cathedral ceilings, sent the wall of 3 inch soundproof glass to the landfill, and turned it into condominiums. Before Tim bought what he could from Clinton and opened up his own place.
His studio doesn't even have a name yet.
Located in a largely Hasidic neighborhood, it's an understated gated building covered in bold colored sports logos with Lamb's Quarter weed growing up out of the cracks in the concrete by the side door, where a Puerto Rican parade float is permanently parked.
Last year when I came through New York we had tracked a couple songs and Tim had brought this drummer to the session, Doug Yowell. He's a monster musician, and fits so well with my music. So we had called up Doug again, and Rob Jost, who played on Mirror the Branches with David and I last Spring. Rob is also incredible because he is equally well versed on the french horn as he is on upright and electric bass. He really brought a lot into the sessions. They come with the songs learned, with an intent and inherent integrity. Musicians like that are beyond rare. People like that are beyond rare. It was such a good vibe. We don't forget to smile, to tell each other we're doing a good job along the way. I feel supported, elevated.
The days went by in a flash. I knew they would. We tracked three songs per day for two days, choosing the best take as a whole from a handful of runs. I hadn't planned on putting drums on my new song, "What We Ask For," but I got the spontaneous desire to try it out with Doug, and it is now my favorite song we've got on the roster.
The last day an excellent tango guitarist, Carlos Pavan, came in to record a couple of tango standards with me, which I had originally hoped to put on the record. While he was an incredible musician, and we were happy with how they turned out, they really didn't fit mood-wise with the rest of the songs. We did, however, record a Silvio Rodriguez song just for fun, the first night when we were getting sounds. It turned out to be a keeper and we'll put it on the record in lieu of the tango stuff.
As we rolled up the chords and packed the mics away--just Tim and I in a hazy four a.m. kind of fog--we disclose truths, laugh about lies, and then walk arm in arm to the subway station feeling like team-mates after one hell of a game. (The sports logos spraypainted on the door lend themselves to the sensation.) We pass his neighbors sitting on the front steps on the way into the apartment building. Tim says Hi. They grunt. I crack up it's so socially awkward.
Tim's roommate is Adam, this big, tall beautiful man with both a heavy brow and an easy smile. As long as I've known Tim, Tim's known Adam. No, much longer. Tim and I open the apartment door to find Adam and Leslie, (Tim's true love) on the couch giddy and drunk. Somebody, I can't remember who, says they're out of touch with what makes them happy. I say "I feel out of touch with what makes me happy too." Adam says "you just finished procuring a piece of art!" Tim tells him he's a true philosopher. I ask Adam if he studied philosophy. He says he invented it.
I decide to go to bed, because the sun is coming up again. And Adam was totally right: I'm absolutely in touch with what makes me happy. 100 percent.
Exhausted, a few hours later, I crawl onto a china town bus to D.C.. I've got a sold out show for the Institute of Musical Traditions, so I better get my shit together. That's just that. I try to get some sleep on the bus. I wake up periodically and see rain hammering onto the interstate. The air conditioning is out of control! I put on four layers of summer dresses to try and stay warm.
At the show the sound guy brings me jewelry to wear on stage. His wife is a jeweler. The audience is pretty stiff. I'm pouring my heart into it. I want to win their affection, but it doesn't seem to be working. Is it me? Is it them? I close my eyes when I sing for a second and I start to feel like I could fall asleep right there on stage. They clap, they give me an encore, but it's all a bit withheld. You can't win them all, I guess.
At intermission a man tells me he's there with a good friend of Joni Mitchell's. That screwed me up pretty good for the second set, but I get through. After the show he introduces me to who he says is the man who "smashed glasses" with the diety of my universe, the red red rogue who stole her camera on a Grecian isle, the cane carrying cook, Carey. I almost pass out, but manage to spit out a few scattered sentences and at least shake his hand. For those of you that don't know, that's like meeting Jude of "Hey, Jude," or Leonard Cohen's Suzzanne. Wild.
A few days later someone points our there's an e missing from this alleged legend's name. If it was Joni's Carey, he should have an E. Is he the real deal, but he changed it because too many songbirds like me started swooning? Or is it a mean practical joke? I guess I'll never know.
Though I certainly can conclude that names are pretty important after all. Right down to the last letter.
And still no one knows what the hell to call the recording studio! :)
I Propose a Toast - New Song at an After Show Jam
I just found this video from an after show jam last spring...pardon us for having too much fun! This song is one of my new tunes that I will be putting on the upcoming record, "For the Brokenhearted," which I'm headed to New York next week to continue work on with Tim Mitchel! This project has secretly been in the works for years, and we are so excited to see it through to fruition!
In contrast to my last record, Mirror the Branches--in which we took pride in the minimilism--this project features many special musical guests, including (but not limited to!) Rob Jost on Bass and French Horn, Jefferson Hamer on guitar and harmonies, and Doug Yowell on Drums and Percussion. I'll keep you posted on progress once we get inside the studio!
For now, have a drink with us? :)
Two Lives - June 27th
I have two lives I live, and they are equally important. One is contemplative, quiet and philosophical. The other is creative, fiery and unbridled. Darker.
Without the balance I grow restless.
It comes and goes in waves. Some mornings I wake up and have been dreaming of creativity all night. I rise smiling. Opera in a library, songs in the halls lined with books. I kiss creativity in a mad rush down an unlit street. We fumble with the skeleton keys.
And then the wave of disgust comes and creativity is self-indulgent, short sighted, leggy and weak. Unwilling to grow without constant pampering!
I have an idea and creativity says, "How stupid." I blush and change the subject. But three days later, it has been worked into a song. I say, "Hey, that was my idea first!" Creativity says, "I plucked it from the universe like a wild flower. You took too long to make your bouquet."
I'm stunned! So I say timidly, "But I need to build a home to put the bouquet in."
And that's when contemplative speaks up, "I can show you. But it takes time. Read about it. Build a garden wall first. Go gather rocks from the top of the hill."
I say, "Will you hold me?"
Contemplative says..."Yes, we'll wake up to watch the sunrise (implicitly: rather than stay up all night drinking to see it.)
There's a difference in the colors."
I say nothing at all. and head straightaway for the quarry.
Más Poemas de Amor - June 20th
Two lovers on a rock lying in the sun and the summer wind she rests her head near to the sound-hole of his guitar like one listens to a stomach with child.
weeds are pulled to and fro in the water willows are pulled to and fro in the breeze everything is pulled to something though some of us are stubbornly resisting and swimming upstream.
I am like a humming bird in the house colliding with the glass of a bay window because it sees the sun
I entered this mental cage in haste again because I saw that expression inviting me in and I am using old logic to try and get out.
It's best not to drink the water from my words take the truth directly from the well in our eyes. I am warning you: everything else is a lie
Patience is the greatest form of grace. you cannot construct a hill to resemble the sloping waist that nature makes with patience... sprinkled in meadow grass and wildflower jewelry.
Today I entered the shop of the woman who taught me patience like the spider taught the native Americans to weave beautiful beads the size of sand into tapestries.
She wore gray hair to her waist in a braid - only the color had changed - and lines that ten years had traced around her mouth and eyes.
When my parents fought deep in the night: I wove her patience.
And when the beads were knocked to the floor because the careless limb of a child careened, they mixed with dust and bugs into a multi-colored mess.
With a needle and time I would sort them again and hear no words in the house but for hers.
I don't have to seduce you the scent of the moon-vine seduces you and we breath the same air.
I don't have to woo you the stars do and I will make myself a shadow in the courtyard
expose your skin to the rain and let a little bit of the world in!
To taste the difference in these lives, you cannot share just one meal.
Stay on and let the night air feel your vulnerability.
On Gardening and Being in Love -- May 26th, 2011
Our quirks blend and blur like the many particles in a good strong tea.
When we grow bitter I'm not sure if it's you or I that has flavoured the water.
Anyway it doesn't matter, because even those ideas come from the same well.
When we are calm or joyful or reckless, the seed germinates and grows between our beings in the soul soil.
It was once individual people bone structures facial features flower arrangements!
how trite they seem, those things and the time when we spoke to each other with words.
Words only say so much-- a peeping Tom hole.
The body expresses more-- a window.
The mind reveals nothing at all-- a wall.
a wall that reasons us away from the real with the rational.
In your physical absence I am like the river without the river bed. lacking inertia, buoyancy, turbulence.
I see a man in a car who has been engineered into believing that separation and individualism are the fashionable ways of being.
I see a man in line at the grocery store who is stuck inside the LCD screen of his smart phone. A screen keeps something outside out.
There are more people inside screens every day. I don't believe in little virtual rooms anymore. They don't exist.
I remember when someone first told me about the aspen trees. I grew dizzy with love!
Thinking of all those hands holding each other.
Nothing in nature is isolated. Pull out a weed-- it's roots are laden with a whole soup of antiques!
But a man pulls at the string of a chainsaw. It starts after a few tries- chews at a log. He is slicing into another world without even knowing it.
Birds call all around us. They cackle at our ignorance, marvel at the rift-- whatever they have the whim to say won't be understood. We get the gist of it even if we don't get the details.
In loving you I am more connected to the world. I am reaching out my root threads to all the wriggling life-- to take hold and be aware of our intrinsic intermixing. To enjoy it and celebrate existence.
But they are a dying breed, the open curtain souls. Most people are not so alive. They are like rocks. no emotion tentacles to tangle with.
You have to lift them up to see the earth at work underneath. And they are heavy! They don't come to you. They wait for the wind to bring them a friend.
We are like two bay fig trees. Pushing through the flaky earth to be tangled in each other.
New Song - Make You Remember
Make You Remember Lyrics:
You’re Italian, I’m American, you’re gay, I’m straight, you’re kissing and I’m staring. Strip away the identity, we’re all just breathing human beings! We’ve got these little boxes sorting out our minds by our color, our culture and our sexual pride, but hey, I’m just as guilty as the next guy. I’m just as guilty as the next guy!
When you think to yourself what a woman can do, do you limit yourself to what’s attractive to you? We affect our tone to satiny soft, I’ve never dreamed of letting it all out like Janis Joplin! Flat-out, being female, we’re raised to fear we might do something that’ll spoil our sex appeal. But when we aspire for more than aesthetic altitude some seem to think we’ve got an attitude! I know you think your hands are clean, but listen to me! I feel it! We’ve got a ways to go, we’re not equal yet. No, we’re nowhere near it. I’d love to express my needs like a dude, get right to the point without being called rude. For example: “Hey bitch! Go make me some food!” I bet that ruins your mood.
It looks two types of ways from two points of view, but I’ll humor you if you ask me to, so let’s contemplate the truth!
I want to make you remember you’re alive! I want to make you remember you’re inspired! I want to wake you up from the slumber. I want to wake you up!
Oh, the mundane, painful mediocrity when real life looks just like a movie scene, telling the same tired jokes that we learned on TV. I can’t seem to escape the Hollywood screen that’s homogenizing humanity, with all their products placed so cleverly, diggin’ another soul-hole to make you think you need another useless thing! And the cuisine we’re consuming, it all tastes the same. The only thing different is the packaging and names, SYSCO, MONSANTO, high-fructose glue: I bet that ruins your mood.
Pre-chorus and chorus
We’re so confident that we’ve corrected history, living in the time when it’s just like it’s supposed to be, but we’re not done purging the pervasive greed. Companies are the kings of this century! Modern day slavery assembles toys in factories overseas! Oh, “out of sight, out of mind!” but by choosing to be blind I’m just as guilty as the next guy! Make way, governments, for the modern day Monarchy--for the purposes of this game, lets call it a corpocracy (though some fancy it a democracy, the puppet boxing ring.) It sells you another useless thing to color up the garbage swirl, to clutter up this precious world. But hey, I’m just as guilty as the next girl.
Stakes are claimed with clever campaigns, a shell sign protrudes from the mountain range, like a flag conquering land. We now colonize with our ads and our brands. It clutters the open horizons of my youth, and fucking ruins my mood.
Pre-chorus and chorus.
Fear based legislation, fear based laws sell us into separation, makes fools of us all. Fear based legislation, fear based laws sell us into separation, makes fools of us all.
An Excerpt from Handmade Houses, and a Life Philosophy
For some years we have heard the extravagant technological promise of housing at low cost. It has never come to pass. The answer to low cost housing, it seems to me, is to make a break with a "standard of living" that makes us slaves to centralized decision-making and control, to an economy whose values are the magnitude of production and consumption. The dollar is not a reasonable measure of the quality of life or the quality of place.
Yet, most of us are still children of that dollar, and of the institutions we grew up in--we are conditioned to their ways. For most of us have grown up sharing little real experience or work. We have few rituals that celebrate our unity of body, mind and spirit. We are trying to find our way back into the earth family and there are few guides to show the way.
Thus, one of our tasks is to repair the rift between our "objective" and our "subjective" selves, to unite the division between the inner and outer man, a division nurtured by the machine metaphor, by the separation of one's work from one's identity. A division aided by fragmentation of our time, and by the physical settings that support this split. Getting myself together started with getting my time and space into one place, with creating the possibility and essential conditions for that wholeness.
This day I chiseled four mortise joints to receive the tenoned posts that will be the frame of our sauna. In fourteen years of architectural practice I never designed a mortise and tenon joint because it was too much handwork and at carpenter's wages, far too expensive. So now I am learning to make them myself.
It is taking me a long time to get over the guilt of spending days hard at work learning to do the things I wasn't trained to do. It is taking a long time to accept simple satisfaction of doing what I am doing, living in the present.
Sim Van der Ryn, The School of Architecture, University of California, Berkeley Published 1973
Dear 100th Person
Dear 100th Unsolicited Commenter:
Thank you for nodding politely, blinking blankly, and pretending to understand that my definition of success has nothing to do with American Idol. I also appreciate you mentioning that you recommend I audition before I erroneously pegged you as someone with a capacity to appreciate music. You really made it clear, when you sparked this sure-to-be-long-lasting friendship by asking me if I'm carrying a cello, that we could go ahead and skip the exchanging names part, the discussing the make and model of my guitar part, the bit about the weather and where you might be traveling, and proceed right to the climax of the conversation--when I get to find out who you're voting for in this season's show!
Truly Yours, Gabrielle Louise
Dear 100th Person Who E-mailed:
Thank you so much for offering me the wonderful opportunity to come and play a show for free. I was really hoping that somebody out there would provide me with a corner in a dingy bar, preferably underneath a television screen displaying an ongoing sports game (commercials with bikini babes a total plus) and some flickering neon beer logos. I'd love to tell all my friends about your establishment, and hopefully I can get a good crowd in there for you. I'll try really hard. No, don't worry, I don't mind that there's no meal included in this deal. And money is of no matter to me, all the extra exposure to the sports fans will pay my rent.
Truly Yours, Gabrielle Louise
The Timely Death of Vita, the Veggie Van.
The weekend commenced with a clamour of symbols and a train wreck of a show at The Salida Cafe. Now, I've played this listening room about every six months since I was 12. It's my hometown gig, and it happens to be a good one, so it's been a more consistent presence in my life than most family members, band mates, or love affairs. I twitch as I type the name, Salida Cafe, because I still can't quite quit calling it Bongo Billy's, what it was originally christened. There have been so many evenings that I've chatted comfortably with the owner, Clark, by the register while he tallies up the proceeds. But this time, well, we hadn't been able to rehearse all that much before the show. David had been down South playing stompin' blues and roots music for two weeks, and I had to teach all the new stuff to Carl minus David. It was a Thursday night and the room was about half as full as it usually is. As Clark counted up the cash, I thought about how much I was looking forward to hitting the sack.
We loaded up the van and pulled out of the parking lot, successfully waking up any early-to-beders in the neighborhood with the loud knock of Vita's diesel engine. Back in Minturn where we'd stopped for lunch there'd been a nay-sayer walking by with a cane and ZZ-Top beard, "I hope you're not going over the pass in that thing! Sounds bad, little lady." I'm not really the type of girl that likes to be called "little lady," so I told him "mind your own business!" Ok...maybe I only said that with my eyes. Two blocks away from the Salida cafe the tick-tock knock slowed to a full stop, and Vita made it damn clear she wasn't inteding on starting again. We pushed her to the side of the main strip, right smack in front of the local bar, The Victorian Tavern, or, The Vic.
I sat behind the steering wheel, staring, for about five minutes. David and Carl grew increasingly curious and uncomfortable. "Nope, sorry mate, you're not dreaming, this is your life," I said to myself. "Deep breath," and opened the van door. We proceeded to unload all the speakers, stands and instruments from the back, the strewn clothing, coats, bags, books, loose change, motor oil containers, and oddly shaped tools until I found the vice grips and the spare fuel pump.
Ok, so it's time to confess. Vita's needed a new fuel pump about every two months for, well, her whole life. The WVO has to be wicked hot to flow easily through the fuel system, 180 degrees to be exact, and it's so hot that it melts the plastic components in the pump. I could just buy a new pump that has metal components (now wouldn't that be brilliant!) but instead I've personally exchanged the stock fuel pump in every damn NAPA in the country. Twice.
So I get to work fixing it, wishing to god that Chris were there to help. David and Carl are making me laugh at least, chalk full of that's-what-she-said jokes and having a smoke. But I still feel the tolerance timer ticking down, and as I hurriedly clamor with the tools like a drunk dentist in stage clothes, a coyboy squints into the street light and recognizes the nerdy girl from English class. "Gabby?!?"
"Well, here we are, at the height of our careers," David says. For the hundredth time.
That night I soaked in the hot tub and stared up at the stars. I had a headache from breathing the diesel fumes that I couldn't kick. I couldn't sleep. Half my brain was on repeat with a new song lyric, and the other half was bleeding air out of the fuel lines sans a flashlight. Either way, it wasn't tired, and it sure hurt bad. Clark had eventually ridden by on his bicycle, circa one a.m., and convinced me to give it up and try again in the morning. (But not after we try one more thing! Just...one...more...thing. And not after one more drunk cowboy offered to help while teetering on his feet and crashing into the curb, smelling like whisky.) Oye, Vay.
Chris, our beloved road manager, and Mandy, good friend and jazz singer who was lending her lovely voice to the next two gigs, arrived the next morning donning more tools and energy, and within a couple hours we were hitting the road again. "Chris could change the color of the moon if he wanted to." And that's what my roommate Art has to say about that.
The gig in Montrose came and went, the post-show festivities came and went, again with little sleep and plenty of raunchy humor. Standing on our host's porch at two a.m., staring at miles of pastures and city lights, a cow-gasm interrupted David and I's philosophical conversation about truth. Yes. a cow-gasm. I have to confess I've never really thought about whether or not those truthfully exist, but as it turns out--they do.
A downright paganism cellebration of decadence and abundance is what came the next day. Paonia, Colorado, home to many of the orchards and vineyards in the state, is a flash-back-to-the-60s with its music festival called "Mountain Harvest Festival." We'd been hired to play a set for the third year in a row, so I knew exactly what kind of ridiculous joy was about to descend upon us. The set went great, Paonia graciously gave us a standing ovation, and Carl wore a red boa while banging the drums like a toe-headed heathen. He had us all sinking into each downbeat like mud, trudging solidly and somehow, spiritedly all at once. David wore his usual stoic stage face and made a series of dry quips that had the audience chuckling between songs. The string of notes that he pulled from his guitar were so colorful and buoyant that I felt every song to be new. I love that. Mandy sang spot on harmonies despite a severe hearing loss she suffered at 19. Not to mention she looked stunning in the red dress she was wearing, and performed the most expressive version of sign language lyrics that I've ever born witness to. I left the stage very very proud of my friends.
Have you ever heard traditional Indian music? I hadn't. After our set we wandered into the venue next door where a woman named Beth Quist sang in a three octave, micro-tonal range on a stage outfitted with tie-dyed, trippy tapestry while playing the piano and the guitar AT THE SAME TIME. I felt like I was in Berklee, CA, 1965. I didn't know if we'd make it home the next day or not, (Vita was still coughing like she hadn't kicked the cold yet) but I was so happy in that moment that I popped a fuse in my head.
We loaded up at 8 am and she drove pretty smooth until we hit McClure Pass. Round the top the transmission started having trouble and we pulled over to absorb the view of patchwork-quilt fall aspens on the mountainside. I climbed up on the roof to take photos and Chris looked up at me in his trucker hat, us both figuring that whatever was about to happen was gonna happen anyway. No controlling it now. We coasted down to 1-70 and then hobbled up yet another pass at about 15 miles an hour, engine smoking, hogging the breakdown lane.
We're headed now to put her to sleep. I don't know how we made it home safely after 6 cross continental tours and a lovely little jaunt up to Alaska. But we did, and good old Vita has run her course. Besides, we've got a new pup now, "De Jefes," Mexican slang that we were taught to mean "For the Bosses!" De Jefes is a 40 foot Silver Eagle tour bus that we're remodeling to comfortably carpool with 4 other acts. Collectively, we're becoming what we'll call, "The Music Market," a touring music festival of great musical diversity and full of social consciousness. We're keeping the WVO method of fueling and will be hitting up 6 markets in the new year: Salt Lake City, Seattle, Portland, San Fran, Albuquerque and Denver.
I'll be posting photos of the progress as we go (The first thing that needs to change is the paint job--right now you feel like singing the national anthem when you go for a spin.) We bought the bus stripped and have many an hour to put in before it's the dream ride we imagine it to be. But YOU thought I'd give up after Vita's tranny gave out, didn't you? Hell no! Must...try...one...more...thing.
The Recording Story
This is the journal entry from "behind the board"--my experience working on Mirror the Branches, due out sometime this summer.
The week before recording Chris and I were on tour in the Midwest. The schedule had us low on sleep, since each college was a decent drive apart, and our afternoons were accounted for with Earth week events, evenings with the concert performances, and mornings we'd venture forth again, dopey and drowsy, crawling into our lovely life: Vita, the veggie van.
It began raining right away- the second day on the road, relentlessly keeping time on the windshield. Our heater is broken, and we had foolishly packed for summer, so it didn't take long for us to get sick. I'd look at my calendar and hear it ticking at me like a clock, and every passing day my sinuses got more inflamed until the small amount of time allotted to sleep was spent focusing on trying to breathe in the stuffy night. My nightmares held all sorts of horrors, including but not limited to: Arriving at the studio, only to find myself suddenly nine months pregnant and having to deliver a child rather than cut the new CD. (Would I really tell my future child that could I have chosen differently, I would?!?); Or, routing to the studio by bus and losing all my teeth in a collision with a grip pole when the driver suddenly braked and tossed me forward into the steel bar. (Don't worry, I insisted on a refunded fare before proceeding, bleeding, to the hospital.)
We picked David Rynhart up at an Irish pub near Cheshire, CT, where he was scribbling in his sketchbook and drinking a pint--a very regular portrait of our dear friend. He'd been on tour 'round New England, sporting his broad brimmed hat and tweed sport coat, carting a guitar and his Irish Flute. He'd done his traveling by bus and train, told us he'd stayed up late for days on end with poets and songwriters, trad players and bus sharing buskers.
I walked dizzily into that dim pub on a bright afternoon, carrying enough goods to stock a natural food shop: vitamin supplements, tissues, tea and tinctures, all recommended by the great Joelle Moushati, our herbalist friend from Boulder, CO. Chris carried, as usual, his older-than-dirt laptop which had, for the hundredth time, broken and was in need of repair. We greeted Rummy (as we call him) and Chris promptly began to dissect his computer into a pile of screws, wires, and hardware, looking like the mad scientist that he is. And me? I began to compile a pile of pills hearty enough to feed the hungry, lining up the bottles like bowling pins on the table. Our waiter approached, immediately irritated, and we had to laugh at ourselves in such a sorry state.
We still had two days before the studio, so we landed ourselves at a Motel 6 near to David's gigs. The time which we'd planned to rehearse could hardly be put to use, since I couldn't complete a song without a sneeze, so we went to work arranging French horn parts instead. (While in Argentina and writing the record I had called Mark Thayer at Signature Studios and asked if he knew a French horn player and upright bass player that we could rope into the session. He replied that he, in fact, knew someone who played both!)
Now, Signature Studios is located in an old barn in Pomfret, CT. This I knew from my investigation on their website. What I didn't know, though I had certainly hoped for, is that the setting is stunningly beautiful. There is a vineyard and quaint, fenced garden on the property, all enclosed by a curtain of wood that protects one's sense of space from the road and not so nearby neighbors. We discovered that the old barn and its adjoining apartments were once home to an artist's collective in the 70s--just my style.
When we pulled in the drive, Vita rumbling and trumpeting our arrival (yes, thank you Vita), I looked around a bit uncertainly- where to knock? A voice called down to welcome us from a top a set of stairs and behind a shadowed screen door.
Mirror the Branches was starting to spin on an old record player somewhere.
Still sick, but with above average adrenalin levels, we began tracking that first night. Strange Summer Snow and I'll Turn Myself in on Monday both happened fairly fast. (I chugged enough tea to trigger thirty bladders of bathroom field trips 'tween takes, a disco drip in the leaking sink faucet rushing my relief and sending me bolting back into the booth to try another take. hilarious!)
We very quickly settled into a routine of team work- Christopher cooking meals, David, Mark and I focused on the recording tasks. All hands and ears were well rehearsed, but plenty patient to hear one another's ideas (and there were many many wonderful ones.) Mark's temperament is so relaxed that my stress soon subsided, and I realized that one's job as an engineer must be much more psychologist than tech head!
The second day in Pomfret started off stormy- as though something lovely was brewing. David and I practiced this brooding instrumental piece I imagined would represent transition on the record, (a classical guitar study by Leo Brouwer that I've renamed The Breeze Took Life and Sang) and the sky shook drizzle and morning thunder while we wore sunglasses inside for kicks. Mark was visiting with his downstairs neighbor, and they called up to us from the lawn to take a look at what was breaking through the sky. A beautiful double rainbow that was ending, it seemed, in the garden before us. So, David ate it, naturally, and I grabbed it like a spear, and well, everyone agreed it must be an omen- a good one, that is.
We proceeded to track--live being our plan of attack--David and I both playing and singing at the same time, and on a handful of tunes overdubbing subtle things like rhodes or mandolin sparkles. The more time passed at the studio, the more relaxed and efficiently we worked. Sharing meals, sleeping there, waking up early to tiptoe toward the bathroom and hear my songs singing back at me from the control room--Mark was already hard at work! (Ok, yes, and I tend to sleep in later than most....)
On the evening of the third day Rob Jost, aforementioned bassist and French horn player, drove up from New York City and joined us to track Desiree and Jonathan Michaels. We also talked him into adding bass to Strange Summer Snow, which he played so beautifully.
Later that night when buckles clapped and uncapped the French horn from it's case and Rob played a few warm, round sounding notes to Jon Michaels in the control room I nearly DIED, or cried, or both. I literally jumped from the couch like a cheerleader and gave my new friend a large unsolicited hug. His parts give the record just the somber, and sea faring feel I had hoped for.
Quite ahead of schedule and with only one (planned for) song left to track, we began our fourth morning at Signature with confidence, and ok, a little hype. At the suggestion of Mark (He'd heard it during a rehearsal) we decided to add House Carpenter to the record. House Carpenter is the first song I can remember my mother teaching me. We were up round a Colorado campfire, I the barefoot child of hippies, and my mother and friend singing it in the smoke and stars. I asked her to teach it to me, and I used to cry every time we neared the sad ending. Anyhow, it's an interesting full circle feeling to have tracked it on my fourth studio record, ten years after learning it.
Truth be told, we had to twist David' arm into playing the part of the devil, yet again...but we finally convinced him after Mark mentioned the idea of adding (gasp) an electric guitar solo. It's really lovely to have David singing lead on something on the CD, and his voice sounds just gorgeous. After recording the basics for that 7 minute old English folk ballad, we then proceeded to overdubs.
Overdubs are always my favorite part--watching, or hearing, your children turn into adults!!! Fully realized ideas, with a sense of personality and fashion taking shape. David was absolutely brilliant and breezy in his execution of his creative ideas, and Mark had so many wonderful suggestions to broaden the soundscape. Glockenspiel stars on Midnight Molasses, rolling thunder from a ceiling panel on House Carpenter. (My credits will read like this on the record: Gabrielle Louise -Songwriting, Voice, Guitar, Rolling Thunder.)
Once our work was done we had enough time left to beer and booze ourselves into goofiness. We made a series of music videos, from serious to extremely silly, that really captured our time at Signature Studios. We sabotaged Tom Waits' tunes, crooned Use Your Teeth, Pure Adrenalin, and Quantum Genius to a chicken perched on the piano, and eventually filmed some very moody one mic vids of I'll Turn Myself in on Monday, Pirates of Mental Space and Midnight Molasses a la Welch/Rawlings. This week I discovered a poem that I love. It reminds me of all these late night sing-a-longs that keep me alive and full of joy.
Everyone suddenly burst out singing, And I was filled with such delight As prisoned birds must find in freedom, ...Winging wildly across the white Orchards and dark-green fields; -on - on - and out of sight.
Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted, And beauty came like the setting sun: My heart was shaken with tears, and horror drifted away...O, but everyone was a bird; and the song was wordless, the singing will never be done.
-Siegfried Loraine Sassoon 1919
We took about a week off of the project, dropping David off at a bus station in Hartford, CT, where he began this month's cross country journey. Chris and I went up to New Hampshire, where my grandmother Isobel maintains a beautiful blueberry farm. We spent the week recuperating in her colonial farm house, reading WWI poetry and having many a wonderful meal, chalk full of conversation and candlelight.
Now we're onto mixing, after a good day of cleaning house and tidying the tunes for clicks, pops, crackles, and a "garden variety" of cereal box nuisances. I'm finding that I have to live with a lot of imperfections--it's the nature of cutting a record in this style--you maintain the emotion but have to accept an out of tune note now and again. I try to remember Cohen, who wrote it so well...
Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything That's how the light gets in.
Overall, I'm just bursting with excitement about releasing the record, when that time comes. We have mastering, artwork, and printing yet ahead, so maybe midsummer? We’ll see…
July 4th Cynicism and Celebration: A Rollercoaster Mood Ride.
The flight from Denver to Bend was long and packed with layovers. Three of them, as a matter of fact, which gave total strangers plenty of opportunities to ask me what kind of guitar I play (or is it a cello?), if I play the blues, and, am I going to play them a song? After about the 20th question in one day--I did actually count--I responded in a defeated, annoyed, and perhaps bitchy tone to the final curious 45 year old mullet donning male: "Does it really matter what kind of guitar I play?" He looked hurt, but OK, what can I do? I might as well have a sticker on my forehead that reads: "Please! Talk to me! Ask me about my guitar!" It doesn't seem to make much difference who is carrying the case, which is interesting. When Chris has it in his hands in public places, the same fate unfolds. Except, he doesn't hold back like I do. He'll tell people it's a flute, or that he isn't holding a guitar at all, and they must be imagining it. "Oh well, it's probably just a symptom of your hangover. Have a nice day!"
When I made it to Bend my friends were in full swing with the red, white and blue celebration. I could hardly keep up the crabby-pants routine with this kind of scene before me. A live band, red wine, river in the backyard with boats, surf-boards, and yes, my friend Cota in cut-offs spinning a festive dame in a fancy dance maneuver.
We danced like total hippies in the six o'clock sun. Dangerously close to the ongoing game of horseshoes, we swung and spun, and Stevie Nicks waved our hands in the air, hoping not to catch a stray horseshoe in the head. I then took to dirtying my new teal dress like a toddler, playing in the mud and the rushes, crawling inside spider filled canoes and kayaks and paddling easily upstream as down in the languid Deschutes River.
It got later and darker, and as the fireworks displayed in Bend I got to thinking my most cynical thoughts of the day: Each one of those fireworks costs thousands of dollars to ignite...it's kind of like watching burning money in the air. Boom! Three thousand little one dollar bills igniting for our two second semi-enjoyment. Sheila, my friend I'm visiting, announced: "I'm bored." Boom! Tax dollars igniting in floral bloom. Then, I got to thinking: What else could those tax dollars have been spent on? Boom! A scholarship for little Jimmy's college education! Boom! The future of a would-be doctor, now doomed to work as a gas station attendant! Boom Boom Boom! The final throws of the show, and Boom! Boom! A new public library goes up in sparkling smoke.
Ok, maybe I need another drink, or better yet, some sleep. I'll sign off with one final emotional swing: Here's a pretty scene I saw of a bike in some crazy tall flowers. The end.
Song In Progress #1- Bubble Gum Income
A deer's walking in downtown Denver cars are honking and yelling out I know him, I know his dilemma, everybody here has taken to shouting
for god's sake be more contemporary write something you know that we can hum mindless chatter topped with a cherry give 'em a piece of that bubble-gum income
but I am not trying to be a superstar oh, I am just hammering on my secondhand guitar and I am not part of the scenery another creative casualty begging someone with a big cigar to make me, make me a superstar.
jump on board, we're all moving headin on toward an open landscape Come on, life is for choosing more than spoon-fed, friendly brand names the whole country's been wearing chains
but we are not.... to make us, make us...
time- you can't buy it with your money won't you try the complementary kind time- spent to buy amenities, accessories and life's on loan. Get the things you need from the dirt and seed and you won't be owned no, you won't be owned.
cause we are not a generation of superstars oh, we are just hammering on these second-hand guitars and we are not part of the machinery another corporate casualty begging someone with a big cigar to make us, make us superstars.
is it for good or for greed? just the handmade version, etc.
The Void Where Life Lives
It is the chasm in the beggar's mouth where the bread spews out, the Monday church, a winter pool, the stalemate of the jury in deliberation of a dilemma that knows no rule-- a cleft in the face of the law.
The crescent beneath your fingernails, forgotten cells, dilapidated cars of rust and sun bleached pastels, skin between freckles... and the place in the window where the ball passed.
It is the unmade, empty bed, the permanent indent on his pillow, the hollow between her collarbones, a missing rib.
Abandoned wells, incorrectly witched and drilled, the singing cave inside a shell and cracks where rodents dwell.
Retired subway tunnels. Translation stutters... it does not exist - the word.
Dancers suspended in a sweaty step, festering in tension 'till the lead takes the next --it's the space between their chests.
Vacuous eyes in the man who forgets: forgets a name, forgets his brother, forgets that he is living. It's the loss of religion like an auctioned off, foreclosed home, ready to be filled again. The depressed, the forsaken, the condemned.
The innards of the flute, the void inside the noose, the rests in the battering of the snare.
The nook between heavy breasts or a set of elevated legs.
It's in the room of a child, grown and gone: a museum, gathering dust. The room of the baby never born, play things dangling, decorations untouched.
And a middle child, happily making a tent of his bed sheets, while the oldest is applauded for his achievement and the youngest is fed.
The square of pavement at an intersection when every light is red.
The standoff of armies on barren land eyes flying across the pasture, flitting from face to face.
The porous places in salt and spices, gravel and worm-ridden grains, hollow hearts and phantom pains, missing limbs and keyholes.
The distance between ants, connected through an invisible synapse. Blank pieces of canvas.
Closed restaurants with chairs stacked on tables and shining, checkered floors. The anticipation in the atmosphere just before it pours, and sure, it's the silence before the comment on the weather.
Cisco town, where nobody lives no more for a 100 miles 'round-- just an old general store, looks like it's been to war bullet holes in the front door. Stretches of long, dusty desert in every direction, sandstone and sky, without interruption--
just the quiet pause in conversation between my mate and me.
"How's my Spanish coming?" you might ask.
After being in Argentina for about a week, we taped this interview, hoping with all our glass-half-full-hearts that I'll speak fluently later, and look back at this to laugh. At the point of this taping I've figured out the words empanada and tango. By now I've added cabeza and borracho as well. Oh yeah, and cebolla (onion), which I confuse, from time to time at the grocery store, for caballo (horse.)
Learning to be a Porteña
01.11.10 Studying Spanish is a tremendous joy for me. I am quite shy about it, but simultaneously enthralled. Putting together a sentence in another language, real-time, with a waiting, finger-tapping stranger raising their eyes in bored anticipation is a tremendous thrill. I am flushed and blushing and flooded with adrenalin, invigorated when I successfully say something as simple as "I'd like some coffee with cream, please."
Yesterday Chris and I walked around a craft fair market and had a picnic in the park. All the while, I'm clutching the dictionary like an "Oh Shit" handle and practicing a few important, rudimentary phrases. "The dogs run." "The cat swims." "I am hot," or "I am cold." Thank God they teach you how to regulate your body temperature right from the get go. This is imperative. Forget about asking where I can buy a sedative to calm myself down. I don't know those words.
Two nights ago our new roommate, Adrien, came home long after we'd gone to bed (we called it quits at 2 am!) with six Colombians in tow. They hollered and drank and generally made themselves merry on the terrace outside our bedroom window. I layed awake in a mixed state of infuriation for the inconsideration and, I must confess, some sort of envy. I jotted down a few lyric ideas in my journal as the light fully disrobed itself in front of the window, and the Spanish-speaking voices continued to gain volume and momentum with the beginning of the day.
I haven't had a wild night in quite some time, where we drink til the dawn, propose a toast to the sunrise, Oh I suppose that's really not the mode where I've been living. And if you're up on the rooftop seeing stars, not of gas and fire, but the kind you bought at the bar, forgive me if I'm more accustomed to judging than joining in.
It's true that the Argentines are on a very late schedule. Around ten o'clock most of the businesses have rolled down their cortinas, metal curtains resembling garage doors, over the store fronts. The shops sleep with iron eyelids. There are significantly fewer lights and neon signs, so you don't have the 24 hour honeybee hive buzz of New York, at least not in our neighborhood. At the same time that the stores close, the restaurants open for dinner and several hours after that, the tangos begin.
At midnight last night we went to listen to a concert that featured a dear friend of mine, Tomas, an Argentine drummer. The club was called "Jazz y Pop" and Tomas whispers to me upon our arrival that "Chick Corea has played here!". The downbeat wasn't scheduled to fall until midnight, and by the time they actually started, it was nearly one am. A flock of open umbrellas swung from the ceiling and low hanging lights illuminated the stage. We ordered a bottle of wine while the band banged a brand of adrenalin-induced jazz and the wide-eyed audience members collided their hands in applause.
A new friend of mine, Lian, joined us at the table with her roommate, Branden. Both American, but indefinitely living in Buenos Aires, they have offered to trade Spanish lessons for guitar lessons. Lian is petite and brunette with focused eyes and an easy smile. She has one brown freckle on the tip of her nose that I adore. She is instantly comfortable to be around, and extremely excited to be living. Branden might be in love with her, and in my quick judgments they appear a perfect pair, but she is a bit coy and happily afloat in this new country. They call each other "B" and "Lee."
After the concert they invited us to share a cup of coffee in their nearby apartment. Not knowing what to expect, we accepted, and were led through a maze of stairs to their bizarre abode. Let me explain that the place is actually an office. Branden moved here four years ago to start up a grant funded company that gives loans to cooperatively run factories in and around Buenos Aires. When the economy collapsed here in 2001, many of these factories couldn't afford to continue operating, and the head honchos would declare bankruptcy and board up. In some cases, the workers returned in the following weeks, tearing down the boards and firing up the machines, beginning a new trend in worker-owned production facilities.Where Branden steps in is this: helping these co-op operations create long-term management goals, and offering available funds to achieve them. He and his colleagues, maybe six of them, operate out of his apartment and also travel to each location to offer their council. If the projects fail, the loans need not be returned. In this way, everybody has incentive to make it work.
We sat in the pool of yellow kitchen light and laughed for hours. To begin with, the combination of coffee and water is a dangerous one. I had to pee within minutes of arriving, and Branden gestured in the general direction of the restroom. Stepping over naked piles of mattresses and wandering into the dark abyss of an unknown apartment, I located the restroom using mostly my hands. Once I successfully illuminated the space I noticed an extra funny looking toilet next to the regular version. I chose the one I recognized, sans the funny spout which threatens to impale a person, and went about my business. When I was finished I examined the toilet in an increasingly frantic and confused state, seeking a way to flush it. Finding nothing resembling a handle, I thought, "perhaps these toilets share a flushing button?," and bending over, staring into the porcelain, pressed the button on what I deduced, a bit too late, to be a bidet. A volcanic eruption of incredible force sprayed me in my confused face, and stepping back in awe, I watched the high spray reach every corner of the restroom. I walked back out to the kitchen like an ashamed soaked cat. I'd heard of these contraptions, bidets, but I can assure you, they are no longer a mystery to me. I know exactly what they can do. Powerful creatures, they are. At the right pressure, I'm quite certain they could be a cheap alternative to a colonic. I have to pay homage to the bidet gods, however, for giving me my second wind and finally keeping me up until the sunrise.
At seven we walked out onto the balcony and, hands on our hips, watched the empty streets start to stir. Looking down, a buttoned up businessman stops in the center of an intersection to scratch his shins, a young woman with long hair quietly lets herself into an apartment, a taxi driver lazily patrols the block. Looking up into the rooftops, as if from the deck of a giant ship, the cell towers rise like masts, and tangled electrical wires are strung from building to building like thick ropes. The humidity seeps in from the sea, and I feel myself to be a porteña
Buenos Aires Arrival 2010
Lazing on a linen couch,
watching a fan blow the paper lantern in a steady sway
and the sweaty day is underway without me.
The morning we left, David arranged his paintbrushes
in a colorful bouquet on the table, and leaning over
like a near-sighted old maid
picked out the one with which he'd stain
a canvas into shards of kaleidoscope color.
"Buena Suerte, and be well!"--we departed,
sharpening our eyes and hunting summer.
Leaving slumber and winter wood stoves, holiday treasure troves
and snow crusted dirt roads to find another kind of inspiration.
To empty the landfill in my soul, the spare coins and plastic toys,
the advertising campaigns and slogans of late--
give them back to the pirates of mental space.
and in the void, I rejoice.
In South America I find myself a stranger.
and it is lovely, no?
to find oneself a stranger.
January 5th, 2010.
Adrien oils his bicycle, Christopher peels his orange into citrus petals that our elbows knock accidentally to the floor. Coffee sounds like a delight, so we put the Italian espresso maker on the burner, and wait for it to boil. Soon we are cleaning up from an explosion. Tiny ink blots and henna dots of espresso grinds tattoo the kitchen walls, the stack of drying dishes, our skin, hair, clothing, our basket of fruit and onions. I listen to the sloshing of the last of the dishwashing as I journal and attack my many bug bites with my claws.
Indian music dances though the air, and the sun is lazy today. That's OK with me, it's been a bit too hot, and we don't have air conditioning here. Adrian told me that the city was having a bit of an air conditioning crisis. Too many units in use, and blackouts began to occur. Prices were raised to purchase them, and the problem has been, at least temporarily, addressed.
This time of year, Buenos Aires is a jungle trying to overtake the city. The mosquitoes are mutilating me. Our apartment is partly indoors, but mostly out--the living space is open to the night sky, and the flesh-colored walls are crawling with possessive vines. A steep stair with an iron railing climbs to our little room on a second story, and a terrace, perfect for grilling and gardening, on a third. Jasmin del campo bushes, Jasmin of the country, line the encasing walls of the terrace. Adrian says he prefers to keep them "violent" as opposed to trimming them. Small white flowers fall from the branches and litter the floors of every room. The space is very private from neighbors--a true oasis.The master bedroom, dining room, kitchen and bath are all isolated rooms. When it rains you must walk through the downpour to cook, pee, eat, play chess...Our second morning here I woke up early and alone to watch the day yawning over the city scape, the rain clapping down like pattycake onto the patio and living space.
It is unbelievably quiet for a city dwelling. Except the cooing of birds from the neighbor's aviary, and an occasional tom cat duel, it's extremely serene. This is unusual, considering our proximity to a major street--Cordoba. Cordoba is the dividing line between the barrio (neighborhood) of Palermo (a very expensive area) and Villa Crespo (where we live.)
For me, at least for now, even navigating the city is a bit meditative. Speaking practically no Spanish, my mind disregards the orchestra of surround sound conversations and advertisements. I only hear tones and pitches. The soprano speech of a wealthy woman, the baritone bartering at a fruit stand...a string section screeching from bus brakes and timpony thunder closing in on the city at sunset. Since everything scans as background music, it allows each train of thought to come to completion, never rudely interrupted by a billboard ad slogan or catcall.
As I explained, we are one block from Cordoba, and yet, our street is empty. Only one car is parked on the entire block, condemned by a sign, with only the engine, frame, and a single door left hanging sadly from it's broken hinges. Small boutiques and shops are speckled about the neighborhood, and we can do our weekly shopping in about fifteen minutes, for the equivalent of twenty dollars.
Copyright 2010 Gabrielle Louise - All Rights Reserved