06 December, 2008

naked sunday


old friends come back into your life for a reason. i'm finding lately, that they're back to remind me of a person i used to be, who bears some resemblance to the person i am now, from whom i can learn quite a bit, i think.

when i was 20, i left college for a semester. i toured that summer, spending part of my time interning at a label in chicago and part of my time driving around in my car playing coffeehouses. at the end of august, i moved to durham NC. my friend killer got me a job at ladyslipper, a venerable bastion of the independent women's music movement. i worked the last regular job i ever had, filling orders of music, calendars (we'moon, what what!), and books in the warehouse. my co-workers were kaia and STS. we went to biscuitville daily, and i slept on killer's couch. i cant say it was the best time in my life; i hated having a daily job and regular hours, but i was definitely learning lots about a bigger world and dipping my toe into the womyns / womans / womens community for the first time. after the christmas rush, i went back to providence, moved into AS220, and started my career.

i've been hanging out with killer again. she's gone on to have a myriad range of jobs in the music biz. in her current incarnation, she's a busdriver and tourmanager. this week, she's taking time off her main gig and helping me out a little. it's nice to be on the road with an old friend, who also happens to be very good at a job you really need help with. we've been showing each other shit on the internet and finding a little time for thrifting. today's outing will take us to a wig shop in norfolk VA. enough said.

the other day, we were sharing a hotel room, and i, as is my habit, was rocking it semi-nude on the way to the shower. i guess it triggered a memory for killer.

"hey, do you remember naked sunday?" she asked.

no, i certainly did not, but i was curious, so she explained. "naked sunday" was a tradition i had brought with me to north carolina from the co-ops i was living in at college in providence. our co-ops were student-run and student-owned giant victorians on providence's east side, with as many as 20 people living in them at once and another 15 coming to dinner every night. we rotated house jobs and cooking responsibilities. it is still the most satisfying living experience i've ever had. once a year my co-op held the famous "naked party" and we also had, weekly, "naked sunday", where it was ok, even encouraged, to spend your sunday in the buff. to praise the lord, of course.

i had completely forgotten about this. but once she reminded me, it set off a chain reaction of memories of my own. brazenly handing out donuts during reading period, cooking in the crowded kitchen with just an apron on, looks of surprise from unwitting dinner-guests, but mostly an ease with my body and silliness around life that i don't feel so much anymore. huh, when's the last time i felt that light? where is that person with a grin and paunch who didn't care if she had tits, or not? lost somewhere in years of working hard on the road. lost in going from studio to gig to writing. lost in worrying about making the right album, making the van payment, and making sense of a career that doesn't look like my dreams.

sigh. i miss her.

another old friend from that time just found me again (and not through facebook, scrubs). she's getting her doctorate, working on the Hill, and sending pictures of me in a vinyl catsuit and pink feather wig. and pictures of me naked in the bathroom getting the first of many many home-made haircuts. and a picture of my front yard, circa 1998.

my friend the fiz and i were celebrating the end of our sophomore year. it was may, which in providence equals heaven. early in the afternoon, we headed over to the co-op that fiz lived in for some light drinking. we planned to get a little buzz going, eat dinner, then get into the serious party-ing later. around 4 or so, the word "light" had disappeared from our vocabulary, and we were now heavily drinking. i decided to take a break, riding my bike the 4 blocks back home to my co-op. i don't drink anymore (which i am not nostalgic for) but i also don't ride my bike as much either. i know it wasn't safe, but i really did love the feeling of being tipsy and zipping through the streets and hills of provie.

when i got home, i locked up my bike on my front porch with the same bike lock i had had since i was 10, a flimsy chain wrapped in pink plastic. i crawled into bed and promptly fell asleep. i woke up around 7 and went to grab my bike for the trip back to the party. while i was sleeping off my semester and my drinks, someone had come, cut my bike chain, and taken my ride. up to that point, i had never had anything stolen from me. ever. i was a lucky and sheltered girl.

i was definitely still drunk, but i was also 20 years old with a pathologically mischevious bent. i called fiz to tell her what happened, and we sprung into action. first i took what was left of the bike chain and nailed it up over the doorframe of our parlor (yes we had a parlor). i signed, dated, and memorialized my bike. i haven't been in that house in almost 10 years, but perhaps someone can tell me if it's still up on the wall. i wouldn't be surprised if it still was. the co-ops were always evolving and organic spaces. one part crunchy living experiment, one part surrealist installation, it was like living inside a whole foods designed by duchamp.

by the time fiz came over, i had a plan. no one was going to do this to me without having their fire returned. we needed to send a message. a big one. fiz and i worked quickly, barely speaking, our mission unspoken and clear. we found a door in the basement, sealed over the knob hole, and gave it a good coat of primer. our co-ops were student maintained, and at this time, fiz was maintenance co-ordinator. one of her many talents, besides fixing boilers, meeting firecode, and shingling, was a facility with cement. we decided our message would stand the test of time. so while i sawed two 4 x 4s of pressure-treated wood, fiz mixed up a batch of cement. we went to the front yard and dug two deep holes. it was probably 8 o'clock now, getting dark. we had only consumed alcohol and hummus. we were running on our youth, our indignation, and our pure sense of purpose. we filled the holes with fresh cement and planted the 4 x 4s. we gave the door another coat of paint, then took it outside and mounted it on the posts.

i settled on a simple message that succintly summed up how i was feeling. i carefully painted the following;

"THANKS FOR STEALING MY BIKE
....ENJOY THE RIDE"

i added my co-op logo and a few graphic flourishes. fiz and i stepped back to admire our handy-work. yes, it would do. we promptly went back to her co-op and told our story over and over, extremely proud of our sass and industry.

my co-op sat on the corner of waterman and brook streets, a big intersection on providence's east side. for the next several months, we'd sit on the porch and just watch the motorists stopped at the light and their reaction to the sign. there were lots of smiles, horn honks, and "you go!". remember this was 1998. about a month after my bike got stolen, a knock came on the door. did i need a new bike? someone had seen the sign and donated a very fine old fashioned red racer with banana seat. i've never bought a bike again, always trading for my wheels. the sign eventually got painted over, and our billboard became a bulletin board for community happenings and co-op chicanery. i haven't been by in awhile, but it was up for at least 5 years.

i am still the person who loved to walk around naked on sunday (or any day really) and who sent a creative fuck-you after a petty crime. my heat might cost too much for me to be naked as often as i'd like now, and i might have changed the medium for my messages, but that was me and is me still. i am glad for this reminder to be lighter, to remember my younger self, and embrace my inner flaunt.

01 December, 2008

gratitude

oh i have been a lucky girl this last month... let me tell you why:

i got back from europe at the end of october with november stretching out ahead of me, blank and open. originally i was thinking i would mix my new record during this time, but thats been put off a bit (no worries, its all for very good reason). what would i do with all this time? i think the lesson is that when i let go, good things happen, and they happen with good reason.

it turned out that this was the best possible time for me to be off the road. i was home and not working when i got the last minute opportunity to open for shawn colvin here in northampton. perhaps i ought to have my singer-songwriter card revoked for this, but i had never seen her before and wasnt that familiar with any of her music besides her bigger hits. let me tell you, this lady was bad-ass. firstly, she didnt soundcheck, which always impresses me that someone is that confident or busy or anything to skip that part of the day. she strolled in at 8pm, right as i was going onstage. we said hello in the hallway, and i went out and did my set. then promptly at 9, she took the stage. plugged her guitar straight into her DI and proceeded to play and sing impeccably for the next hour or so. she had said she was under the weather, but i have experienced that enough to sift out the song and the delivery. i was blown away. simple. confident. bulletproof songs. amazing guitar playing. warm and real onstage. may i be so lucky to do this long enough to experience that ease. i want to say, "shawn colvin, who knew?" except that thousands of people totally know already. i'm just late to the party.

a party i am not late to is amy ray. like a lot of other ladies my age, indigo girls were the soundtrack to my life age 14-18. i remember sitting in my tiny blue pick-up truck, alone in the highschool parking lot after a senior night awards ceremony-thing, listening to "nomads indians and saints" in its entirety. and just crying. i dont know why exactly i was crying. maybe saying goodbye to being a kid. maybe i was embarassed by my highschool awards. maybe something i cant name, but there the indigo girls were, with me. a couple years ago i got the amazing opportunity to join amy, emily, ani difranco, actor james cromwell, activist winona laduke, and others for a lobby day on capital hill... i wrote a long blog about it thats still up on myspace. i look back on that day as the beginning of my political consciousness. up to then, maybe i was sympathetic or supportive, but that experience inspired me to get educated, to get articulate and be articulate about being a citizen.

the next night after shawn came to town, amy ray came to town with her FUCKING AMAZING BAND. i dont think i can cuss enough to tell you how tight and rocking they were. amy's solo songs are po-litical, for sure. but they are also highly theatrical. hedwig meets the entirety of the 90's, in a good way. amy is blunt, but always with an ear for the poetry of being honest. after the show, i was catching up with the band, and amy invited me to join them in new york later the next week to play guitar on a tune of hers called "laramie". what a song. go look it up on youtube to see her play it in asheville. it was the last song of the set at the bowery ballroom, and i hopped up, borrowed amy's guitar and joined in. as i was playing, i felt enveloped by the depth of the music around me. i think thats what i took away most from that night... if you put all you have into your songs, and everytime you play them you put all you have into the performance, and you're joined by musicians who give all they have to give, the sum is something else. community is the next spiritual movement. and we arent granted it, it isnt discovered, it is made. by us. we have the tools!

whew! i feel a little carried away when i think about how i felt that night... and yet, my month kept getting better. because i was home and not working, when i got a last minute opportunity to open for ani difranco, i was able to take it. that tour is like family to me, i have been in and around it for so many years, always having huge fun and experiencing big emotions. i did a pair of shows: wilkes-barre PA and boston MA. here is "every state line" from wilkes-barre and "overlap" from boston.


photo by my bud desdemona "bunty" burgin

my father's entire family lives in wilkes-barre, so my 87 year old grandfather got to see me play for the first time. he loved it and i loved that he loved it. our grandparents sometimes only know us through the portal of our parents. to them, all they know is that we are tiny versions of their children, but to side-step that generation and get to hang with my grandfather directly, to have him see me and what i do directly, what an experience. AND he's a big rachel maddow fan. enough said.


so really, how can i sum up the gifts i have been given this month? by one more experience. i spent thanksgiving with about a 100 people of all kinds at the guthrie center in great barrington MA. the center is in the church made famous by the arlo guthrie song "alice's restaurant". arlo bought the church years ago and used to live there. now, its a performing arts center that plays host to a thanksgiving dinner that couldnt be beat. anyone from the community is welcome, and they make a real effort to include members without families or experiencing hard times. it was a beautiful collection of people. this was better than any tedious version of thanksgiving i have ever experienced. no one was going through the motions here, probably because everyone in that room, for one reason or another, was truly aware of the gratitude part of thanksgiving, not the emphatic consumption the holiday usually brings. how powerful, a room a people who were truly grateful.

i am in a deeply searching place right now in my life, and what i am finding i am most hungry for right now is community. i feel most satisfied when i am working to create it. i feel the most love when i sit right in the middle of it. i truly believe that its where we will heal ourselves (and our country). and as i said, we dont have to wait for it to be given. the tools are time, love, and willingness. thats it! now go!

PS: see the movie "rachel getting married".

05 November, 2008

the morning after

let me say first: hooray! it's done! america has moved forward into something entirely uncharted. a man by his name and skin, if he never does anything again, has by simply being there and winning, lifted a tremendous weight off of our country. i am proud of us for that. deeply proud.

yes, we paid $600 million dollars for him, but we also paid with our loss of standing in the world, the erosion of our economy, and we have paid most dearlywith 4190 lives lost and 30,764 wounded.

here's something i wrote on september 25 in my journal, a black book with a picture of sarah palin in a stars and stripes bikini holding a rifle pasted on the cover. the occasion was a drive through the independence pass, on the way to aspen colorado.

when i travel america, the west, these mountains and huge sky, the sheer diversity of this country- flat peaked brown black white and every color person- i can say, i love america. i love this country. i am proud to be of this land- shaped by the forces of heat and rocks cooled. lichens and aspens in the most unlikely of places. i am proud of this land. and yet the other america- with its flag and armies and flat screens to improve your self-esteem, its markets crushed in speculation and panic- i cannot line up shoulder to shoulder with that. i could never understand how this america could move against another person, ever. what people who dare call themselves a country are those that would do that? would represent that? that's not my land. that is my continental divide.

that day i was literally and figuratively standing on the geographic split of this country. and this morning, i , like many many other americans, feel a sense of healing with that. i really do.

but i would not be true to myself if i didnt also express a few other thoughts. firstly, as michelle shocked says, with a new president, we are just getting a new CEO for USA, INC. another friend put it like this, we are changing the hood ornament on the car. they are both right. and though i am crying sincere tears when the "first family of the united states" is introduced and a beautiful black man and his righteous wife and their daughters come out onto a stage and greet hundreds of thousands of americans, i am also deeply suspicious of the hold that power has and how it clings. represent me, barack, yes. but show me that you are more than this symbol- with all your power, your history, your hope for the future- show me that you can also fundamentally shake up the corporation- add responsibility, fairness, and subtlety to what's usually drawn in the broadest of strokes.

speaking of broad strokes, my abiding feeling today, as this day becomes clearer and last night recedes, is of a profound sadness, disappointment, and disjunction with this new feeling of hope. california's proposition 8 looks to pass, banning gay marriage and writing bigotry and hatred into the constitution of the world's 8th largest economy.

how can people do this? by all exit polls, it looks like the same people that rightly carried barack obama to victory, also used their history-making vote to wrongly legislate the definition of a business arrangement into a fear-based, hypocritical and regressive definition of love. it makes my heart hurt to see this. just as we are symbolically moving past one kind of hatred, we re-inforce another. is there really no conscience that cant see the contradiction?

somewhat related, here's an interview i did last week for the UKwebsite, lesbilicious.com.

16 October, 2008

obama-rama

yesterday was my birthday. my 31st... i have been saying onstage for some time now that i hope it means the end of my saturn returns. it's a story meant to set-up a new song of mine called "28" which describes how i was feeling exactly 3 years ago when i first noticed my life heaving. heaving... yes, rising up into big hills of drama then cracking and splitting and falling into deep wallows of inner life. if i were a waveform, my amplitude would have increased, and my frequency. it all just got busier.

i'm a big one for dates, so a birthday is an important holiday. my re-start every year. i like new years eve for the same reasons. any holiday has a calendar attached to it, a yearly cycle that overlaps with other yearly cycles, so in my mind we're living concurrent lives always. in our emotional life, our family life, our creative life we are constantly marking anniversaries and moving forward. this year, i wanted to mark my birthday in a deeper way so i decided to fast. today is day 4.

my fast is really a cleanse: you make a mixture of water, lemonade, maple syrup and cayenne pepper and that's all you drink. you can have a cup of tea at night, and in the morning you do a saltwater flush. i wont describe it further, but use your imagination and know that the saltwater flush sucks. i havent felt hungry or down or tired too much, but every hour is different. that's one of the things i like best about fasting. take away the ritual of food in your life, and you have a lot more time on your hands. take away the sensation of being truly satiated- of being "full"- and you really start to be aware of your body in a new way.

i try to stay home alot when i am fasting, it helps conserve energy and it's good to be near a bathroom. but last night, my friend jose ayerve invited me to come play a song or two at an obama rally in easthampton. i hardly get to see jose, and i miss him. he's fucking brilliant. check out this song we made together just this spring. its about 3 way relationships or the redsox bullpen. you decide.

so i hadn't ever been to a political event quite like the one i went to last night. it was much more than party trays of food and socializing. there was the expected table to buy obama pins and stickers and lawn signs and tshirts, but there were also tables where you could write postcards to undecided voters, laptops where you could sign and send online petitions, and a station where you recorded a youtube message about why you were voting for obama.

jose and i did our video together, and i held a sign that said "mc cain: more of the same". in truth obama isnt nearly lefty enough for me, and i get a bit queasy when he rattles on about "getting" osama bin laden. but i think he probably has to do all that to get elected. i basically trust him. i watch him speak- thoughtful, eloquent, intelligent, subtle- and i think, "i can relate to him and i would be proud to be represented by him". what a strange feeling! to feel some positive connection to the leader of your country. i have NO IDEA what that feels like. as my friend phillip price of the winterpills said last night, "i think it feels pretty good." he was wearing a button that said "moonwalkers for obama".

the room was full of people ready for action. the postcard table was busy with people writing actual letters to undecided new hampshire voters. western NH is just a few miles from here, and the easthampton democrats were organizing groups to go there and canvas for obama. other groups were getting people to go to ohio, pennsylvania and other battlegrounds. the point was that even though western mass is super democrat and lefty lefty, there was plenty of work to do.

i felt incredibly inspired being there. and humbled by the energy of the people working to put this rally and countless others across the country together. what an operation! it reminds me first of all, how giant this country is and what kind of effort it takes to corral a simple majority and get going in the same direction. if we had more than 2 parties, i think it would actually be less of a feat. but to get americans to fall one way or another, when we are so diverse, seems to me a mammoth proposition. and yet it's happening. the effort is extraordinary to me, but then you think of the prize. a truly new direction for our country. a new face for the world. a spring in our metaphorical step. the presidency. wow.

08 October, 2008

trouble the water

i just got back from seeing the new documentary trouble the water. i won't try to summarize it here, just SEE IT.

in a related post, i'm still catching up with my back log of writing... so check out september 16...

02 October, 2008

what is the sound of a blog?

the clatter of keys. the rattle of thought. i dont know why i havent done this before, but here it is... a blog. please comment and post and engage... i have a backlog of entries to post, so i'll start this spring with a trip i took to europe with one of my musical heros, michelle shocked, and catch you up with the tour i just finished. the posts are dated... so lets look back together, shall we?
x

30 September, 2008

the bits of real life

even after all the times i have been on tour and come home, i dont think i'll ever get used to the letdown that accompanies the moment you pull into the driveway and turn the car off. tour is finally over and the frenetic pace of life on the road fades. and whats left? laundry, bills, phone calls, the bits of real life that you have put off for the stimulation of being on the road. the silence of your own house and your own mind. no more distractions!

so i'm home. and it isnt like i was out that long. just 2 weeks and we only had 5 shows in all that time. it wasnt a tour about music, it was about the time in between the music, and so maybe this time, its the friends and travel that i miss the most.

17 September, 2008

the path of ike


























we finally heard that our houston show had indeed been cancelled, so we ambled out of the bywater and headed west on RT.10, heading through houston towards austin. all reports had warned us about driving that route, but looking at the map, we didnt see any better way. we made sure we had a full tank of gas and took our chances.

what we saw on the way was quite incredible. as we approached the louisiana-texas border, we began to see caravans of electrical maintenance trucks, cars with gallons of gas strapped to the back, billboards in tatters and other smaller signs of the hurricane. yet, as soon as we crossed the border into texas, the damage was even more striking and immediately visible. no billboard was intact, and more and more buildings were missing roofs, walls, or were partially collapsed.

we stopped at the first rest-stop in texas, which, as we pulled in, we could see was closed. everything was covered in a cracked layer of smelly mud. clearly water had reached here. the whole place stank, though it took us a moment to realize why. as we walked back to the van, we noticed something odd. the parking lot was covered with dead fish and shrimp of all different sizes. the biggest pile of them was centered around a big drainage grate. literally hundreds of fish had come pouring UP through the grate into the parking lot as the drainage system was overwhelmed. as the water receded, the fish were left to suffocate on the pavement. it was an eerie site, an ominous version of the phrase "fish out of water".

as we approached the beaumont/port arthur area, the devastation was clear. the side of a hotel ripped off. whole swathes of urban sprawl without a single light on. we passed an arena whose parking lot, plus the highway approaching, was bumper to bumper full of tractor trailers carrying relief supplies. scanning the radio, we found that most stations had pre-empted their usual programming in favor of public-bulletins and call-ins. we listened in awe as listener after listener phoned in with information on FEMA, hotel-vouchers, food-stamps and relief kitchens.

it was growing dark as we came into houston. the downtown looked lit, but we passed through short stretches of highway without any streetlights and many many gas stations with no power. the scale of what we saw was overwhelming, something i dont think you can get an accurate representation of from the TV or internet. we drove 4 hours at highway speed through affected areas. miles of damage.

it reminded me of visiting new orleans after katrina. you stand in the wreckage, at whatever stage, but you dont touch it. you experience it, but you dont physically engage in it. it's a hollow feeling. i couldnt shake the suspicion that we were trespassing through these towns' post-apocalypse clean-up.

we arrived in austin late night, quiet and somber from our visions. austin would be our home base for the next 5 days.

SUGGESTED READING: ISSAC's STORM by Erik Larson (who wrote "devil in the white city")

16 September, 2008

i'm headed out on the road again, after a summer of laying low and recording my new record. my partner in crime for this trip is my friend desdemona "bunty" burgin, a gifted photographer who moonlights as a tour manager for me every once in awhile. our first tour together, of the UK in spring 07, featured theft, mugging, and a car accident. no kidding. our second tour was the 9 week marathon "lafayette" tour in the fall of 07. bunts is the perfect tourmate, sweet and capable and funny as shit. you should also check out her photos.

we're heading out on the road for a set of shows with my old friend stephen kellogg. along with his band, the sixers, stephen has spent the last 5 years criss-crossing the country working his growing audiences into a fervor every night. i happened to have a spot in my schedule, he happened to ask, and we are reuniting for a few shows. everytime i see stephen, he sounds better and better, and i dont know anyone who works harder or thinks about how to make their career better, more often. my only regret is that we dont have more shows...

bunty and i left massachusetts on sunday and headed south toward houston, which had just been hit by the devastating hurricane ike. from the news reports we were watching, it just didnt seem possible to have a show there in two days, but we also hadnt received confirmation from the promoter that the show was cancelled. so we drove...

looking at a map, we saw that new orleans was on the way. i've spent some sizeable chunks of time in NOLA and even made a record there in 2004. the last time i was there was december 2006, on a writing trip. getting to go back, even for 24 hours was a treat. we're staying with my good friend, shawn hall, a painter, who also owns piety street studio, where i had recorded "we will become like birds". piety street is in the bywater, a funky neighborhood i have become quite familiar with and fond of. katrina impacted the area, though it did not flood. compared to 2006, it finally looks like the bywater was running on all cylinders again. the same cant be said for other parts of new orleans which are still mired in post-hurricane beurocracy and neglect. it's mind-boggling to think that the great and mighty american enterprise could turn so profound a blind eye to such a beautiful and important place.

shawn is relentlessly positive, but never unrealistic- qualities that have carried her through lots of tough situations. she's one of the main reasons i love new orleans so much. through her, i've seen unique parts of the city through her artist's eye and really grown to feel a connection to her neighborhood.

10 March, 2008

day thirteen. brussels and home.


i had been to brussels once before, for a night on the way from amsterdam or to amsterdam, i cant remember. what i do remember is loving the town and wishing i had more time there. jan started by taking me to a tiny pasta place next to the opera, which was about a quarter the size of vienna's. i had spaghetti with truffle oil and sausage, a sign of the good food to come.

the first night i was there, we decided to go and hear some music. according to jan, not many of his professional musician friends like to go hear live music. and i can see why. you spend so much work time in clubs, why would you want to spend your down time there too... but i get so much out of being in the same room as anyone performing, that i eat it up and it fires me up. so we went and saw the cuban guitarist ray cabrera and his band. we got there late, so we sat in the front row. now i was the person i laugh at or try to ignore at my own shows. clumsily trying to squeeze in without being noticed by the person onstage. hah! we see you. always.

i loved hearing music where i didnt understand the words, which made me realize how much i had been enjoying being in countries where i didnt really understand anything anyone around me was saying. when your living is words, sometimes its nice to return words to just sounds, not meanings and references and histories.

the next day, we started earlier and went to a fleamarket in the old part of the city. it was surrounded by streets filled with antique shops brimming with amazing stuff. thats one of the things i love most about traveling: going into antique stores. it gives me ideas for my current house, it gives me ideas for my future house, it fires my imagination for the who and when and what of an object. plus, the more jumbled the store, the more juxtaposed the junk, the more i like it. i want to see a door frame on its side next to a sink next to an entire row of theater seats with antique helmets in a case behind. these stores reminded me alot of the antique stores and salvage warehouses of new orleans. something old and waterlogged about the style, not the dry, wheat harvest and open space aesthetic you see in most american shops.

in the afternoon, we went to the museum of musical instruments. it was incredibly thorough, with instruments from every family you could think of, from most continents. and each exhibit had a sound portion, of course, which was also overwhelming. imagine hearing 30 second clips of a hundred instruments in an hour. whoa.

i found myself looking more and more at the tags for the instruments and hoping to see "north america" on any of them. as much as i love being in europe- the food, transportation, people are much nicer- i have found as i have gotten older i have a real soft spot for america. not the politicians or the flag and the heaviness of all that, but the feeling of america. the best way i can describe it is the SPACE of america, the promise of america. i get nostalgic for every mountain, highway, canyon, forest in my country and the inspiration of someplace so big and beautiful and wild and open, unfinished always and wide enough for everything (if also wide in the pants).

brussels has a huge catholic cathedral ("are there any other kind?" asked jan thoughtfully but belgian-like), and last night we went to an organ concert there of music by the composer olivier messiaen. messiaen dabbled in a form of serialism he invented, but was influenced equally by his big time catholic faith and birdsong. in fact he considered himself as much an ornithologist as anything else. the cathedral was totally dark, except for a spotlight on the giantic pipe organ on the wall. we sat right beneath it. what an instrument! i had no idea what i was in for, being new to messiaen and not too familiar with the pipe organ reperatory.

i love it when the music you are listening to outside of your body, the music you hear that is made by someone else matches so perfectly your interior life, your state of mind, that it becomes a seamless experience. what you are hearing and what you are thinking and what you are feeling are all the same, coalescing into the singular sound in front of you. i will forever listen to messiaen and come back to this moment: this moment of regret, disappointment, of confusion, of being a traveler but longing for something to feel like ground i can stand on, for desperately needing someone i can count on, for putting my hopes and desires on someone who couldnt sustain them, let alone their own. this time that finds me still feeling like more around me needs to fall apart and strip down. as lost as i feel in this moment, i think i will have to get even more lost before whatever it is that i am supposed to do on the otherside can become clear. the rumble of the pipes, the squeal of the upper register, the solid stone of the cathedral sending all of it back to me, growing somehow closer to something inevitable.

06 March, 2008

day ten. paris.


i had the loveliest time in paris on wednesday. michelle, her belgian friend jan, and i hopped on the metro, destination an art store by the louvre. my jet lag took its sweet old time kicking in, but it did kick in. i have been going to bed about 4am every night, despite my best efforts, and waking up around noon. a healthy 8 hours, but ones that make me feel like i have lost too much of my day. maybe its a small difference, but i am a 2-10 kind of girl.

we set out late, needing a meal. michelle suggested the cafe that overlooks the courtyard of the louvre. amazing! that it was a crisp bright afternoon only helped. i have had enough rain on this trip. after coffee and omelets, we headed over the river to sennelier, one of the oldest, if not the oldest, art supply stores in the city. when i was in highschool, i worked for an artist in her supply store and frame shop. just weekends, part time in the summer. i wasnt the most elegant framer and didnt have the best bedside manner (it was my experience, that people really just want you to tell them what they want in a frame and mat), but i loved it. for the craft of it, for the feeling of being at the center of a scene of artists, for my time with paula, the artist. it was the closest i got in highschool to approximating what my life as an artist could be. playing house at 17 with paints and pastels, frame chops, mats and glass.

walking into sennelier couldnt have made me happier. the store is tiny, on three floors, with nooks and crannies filled with the best art supplies you can buy. the cabinets are old and worn, shelves reached by rolling ladders, the staff dressed in long white coats. michelle's partner, david, is a painter and was looking for a duplicate to a brush he'd bought in the same store a few years before. apparently it was such a unique brush, that it had become central to his technique, and he was thinking he ought to have more than one. it made me think about, what if my guitars wore out. you invest so much time in the instrument, the guitar molds itself to you, taking up the oils of your hands, wearing where your fingers play it most, and in turn you mold yourself to the guitar. your style changes to get the best out of the instrument. yes, i could totally understand needing another brush. unfortunately the store didnt have another one and we left disappointed.

next, it was my turn to direct the tour and my single wish for being in paris this day (because i have done the tourist stuff other times) was to make a pilgrimmage to gertrude steins house. i didnt even need to look up the address, having known it by heart and whispered it to myself many times, to hear how it rolls off the tongue. 27 rue de fleurus. we easily found it on the map and walked to it from sennelier, down the rue de seine. the next time i go back to paris, rue de seine is the first place i am going. what an amazing street. gallery after gallery with such amazing art in the windows, on the corners, cafes, and then ending in the luxembourg palace and gardens. rue de fleurus was just a block and half from the park. as we rounded the corner to the house, i felt a twinge in my stomach. places matter to me. to stand in the same spot, especially a quotidian spot like the street someone lives on, is profound to me. we found the house, which has only a simple marker- it still being private apartments- to let you know its signifigance. i kissed the entrance way and michelle took a picture. that's all i needed!

we stopped for chocolate at a nearby cafe then headed to the pompidou center for the spectacular view of paris from the top. we considered eating dinner on the roof, but decided to head down to the square for a more terrestrial setting. at that moment, looking out over paris at night, pointing out landmarks, enjoying the air, i was happy. happy to have had a day with michelle and jan, happy to be away from home. as i said before paris somehow was feeling right to me.

05 March, 2008

day eight and nine. paris.

a change of scenery has done me good. maybe it was the weather, maybe it was germany, not sure, but i am glad to be in paris despite my complete lack of french. i dont even remember the numbers from gradeschool. so i mostly just look blank when people talk to me and i try to apologize and say i dont speak french, but not much comes out.

i will say this, paris seems alot more diverse than berlin. much more to look at as far as people. i hate to say it, not wanting to finger any more heavy history, but i do think its true. perhaps if not more diverse, then berlin is more segregated and i didnt get to the brown parts of it.

i made it into town yesterday afternoon after a few adventures on the public transport. i took my first cab yesterday to get to my hotel. not bad, one cab ride in a week. i am loving the idea of learning a new underground system every day.

i got to play 3 songs last night of my own. which i have to say, i mostly hate doing. for me it breaks up the flow of michelles music and my own concentration on what my role is... its hard for me to switch gears from attending to michelle's idiosyncracies to shining up and displaying my own. and i think my voice is rusty from not singing every night... gonna have to do some singing on my own to keep in shape.

03 March, 2008

day seven. berlin.

more of the same today. rain and cloudy skies. sigh. i suppose i cant expect a brighter mood from myself or the city. my friend ben weaver, a songwriter and poet from minneapolis, is a berlin aficionado, mostly because he has great friends here (see last post). i asked him for some suggestions of what to do with my day. he laughed because, as he puts it, "im not a great person for actual places because when I go somewhere I just basically walk around and sit in parks." which of course sounds perfect for me, if not for this weather.

so taking ben's advice, i headed for mauerpark, a park along a stretch of the berlin wall that remains. i stopped first at the "erotik museum" around the corner from my hotel. what a waste! sandwiched onto a couple floors between lame sex shops, it was an awful lot of old parchment with crazy cartoon drawings of straight people having sex. lots of big penises and fun for the guys. why must women always be depicted on our backs, receiving this heavenly gift of phallus? that makes me sick in an entirely different way than the medical curiousities yesterday.

mauerpark was equally bleak today. i am sure in the spring it can be beautiful and funky, with its graffiti and dog park and lack of tourists. today it just seemed to re-enact the futility of slamming yourself over the wall. i decided to go with that feeling and after eating my lunch in between raindrops, i hopped on the U2 to see checkpoint charlie. brushing up on my post-war history, i learned that it was one of several places where you could move between east and west berlin, but quickly became a focus for most escape attempts and protests. the museum there is so ancient, you want to go in with a sponge and wipe it down. it's been there a seriously long time. still, it was interesting to read the history of all the escape attempts. people under oppression get real resourceful, real quick. hiding in hollowed out cars, ballooning over, escaping via zip line strung in the middle of the night. be it for love, or job, family or freedom of other sorts, lots of people tried it and some heroically succeeded.

02 March, 2008

day six. berlin. the weight of the future, the weight of history.


i cant believe its only day six. how am i going to get through the next 28 days? i suppose it just seems long because there arent that many shows. we play tuesday in paris, and our next gig isnt for another 10 days. i am happy to be a tourist some of the time, but thats not my passion. my passion is music and i am just not making enough of it right now.

i've been so looking forward to being in berlin, perhaps unfairly so. maybe its just another big capital city. and i am thinking this: its so easy to forget how much you need your friends, and how much the way you see a city depends on who you are with. some of my favorite times traveling, on tour or otherwise, have been in the most ridiculously unexpected places but with the perfect company. so here i am exploring berlin alone, and it just feels a little meaningless to me without someone to share it with. so i share it with you, little blog friends.

i got in last night around 6. i had grand plans to see some music or a show, it being saturday night and all. my attempts were thwarted, not too much english language to choose from, and my brain didnt want to translate. so i did some yoga for the first time in days, and then, drumroll please: went to the grocery store. i cant tell you how happy that made me. i took my time, spending over an hour in a big german supermarket just up the street. i bought fish and mueslix, apples and honey, vegetables and soy products. viva la soya! and so i returned to my hotel room for my first meal in a week that didnt include meat or cheese. yes!

my jet lag got me today, despite my best efforts, and i woke up at 1230. sunday in europe means you gotta start early, so i missed alot of the meaty part of the day for see-ing stuff. i was also warned that the weather here would be suspect this time of year. they were right about today! gloomy and raining and wind gusts so hard you had to stop walking and hold onto something. no kidding!

my first stop was the berlin museum of medical history. set on the campus of the charite hospital, the 3 floor museum included a huge collection of medical specimens from the 1700s onward. i saw everything from kidney stones to an iron lung, with early attempts at plastic surgery, two headed babies, cancerous lungs, and wax models of eye afflictions to boot. i must admit i have a little thing for medical curiosities. something about seeing the range of human malformation makes me feel more a part of the regular world, instead of on the physical fringes of it. i saw a version of "body worlds", the fancy new plastination exhibit, in new york a couple years ago. i found it interesting, but not nearly arresting enough. i left the museum today sick to my stomach and totally satisfied. i dont think in america they would have an exhibit like this. someone would protest that it was too graphic or somehow immoral. whats the problem with presenting a whole, and sometimes imperfect, picture of humans? europeans seem to trust themselves to make their own decisions, draw their own boundaries and come to their own conclusions.

of course its the babies that ellicit the most visceral response. as whole minature versions of us, we cant help but feel like we are looking into some kind of time warp, or mirror to our smaller selves. we could have, any of us, been that baby without a head, or the one whose organs formed outside its body, or the one that was normal from the head down until you got to the torso which literally melted into one long fin. i think the feeling is doubly immediate for a woman. what if that was the baby i grew inside me?

i took a long walk afterwards to clear my head and ended up face to face with the reichstag, the german parliament building. bombed during WWII, now beautifully restored, i still couldnt help but feel the weight of berlin's past in it. my dad sent me an email yesterday describing his own trip to berlin this past summer. "All the while we were in Germany, I constantly had a sense of being where the Nazis once were," he wrote. i feel it too, so i cant imagine what someone of my dad's generation would feel. thats all we've known of germany. what does that do to a country to have to extricate itself from under a stone like that? its impossible to start over. germany is Germany, so what do you do? i suppose they have done the only thing you can: soberly face the truth, tell it, and keep moving forward.



i passed through the brandenberg gate, which was bigger than i expected. you know how sometimes grand historical symbols seem so much smaller in person (like heroes)? the gate was grander than i would have thought. i turned right and found myself at the holocaust memorial, which here is called the "memorial to the death of european jews". its a city block of granite plinths. as you look at it, they seem all about the same height, but as you walk through them, the ground falls away until you are in the middle of the grid, with the blocks towering over you. it wasnt very crowded because of the weather, but occasionally i would look down a row and see someone's winter jacket and red scarf breaking up the bleak stone pillars. it was incredibly moving to be there. somehow it all conveyed the size and scope so succintly, all the more powerfully for its bleakness and silence.



another walk to clear my head took me surprisingly to a church. i've been in other cities that seem to have more churches than here. the franzohsichkirche is part of the complex of buildings that make up the berliner conzert haus. i walked in at the intermission of a musik school recital. so i sat down and was treated to a fine fine performance of beethoven's first symphony.

i guess the weather was getting to me, or maybe it was just to keep the theme of a heavy day, but i decided to end my day with a trip to the jewish museum. of course, the holocaust is one small part of the history of jews in germany. it just happens to be horrific and defining. i give credit to the museum for giving the whole history its just due. the upper floors are a more traditional museum setting, though still fascinating and interactive. the basement of the building is like a summation in architechture of the entire upstairs. it consists of 3 overlapping and intersecting hallways. the axis of exile, continuity and holocaust. each hallway has a few objects displayed in them, and each ends in a different type of tower. a garden, a completely empty void, and an installation of thousands of iron masks you walk on, producing an incredible clanking sound. i felt disoriented, i felt overwhelmed, i felt more than walls should make you feel by simply being walls.



i walked a long way after that, trying to find a lesbian cafe that i had read about online, only to find that it was more of a women's center and turkish bath, which it being sunday was shuttered. i'm not really sure i could have switched gears like that anyhow.

history is irrefutable. we carry it with us whether we want to or not. some of us choose to acknowledge it as best we can by writing or tatooing or in the way we live our lives. but what if your history is so heavy and so well-known it threatens to overwhelm the casual or ignorant observer? i hope tomorrow to find myself somewhere lighter in berlin and myself.

01 March, 2008

day four and five. frankfurt and berlin.

it is such a curious feeling to play music under these circumstances. one minute you are on the ground. hunched over in your corner of the car, scrapping for some decent food and worrying. literally three minutes later, after throwing on some other clothes, you are suddenly expansive, standing onstage, bright eyed, smiling (whether you feel it or not) and digging out your soul for a room full of people. it always stuns me with its incongruity. you are alone all day and suddenly, you are the life of the party. not just the life, you are the party. lets dance.

our original plan was to spend the time between frankfurt and south africa traveling in europe together. a great adventure, if you can dream it, we'll do it, said michelle. in reality what happened was that we couldnt agree on a plan that worked with money and what we both wanted to do. so i am on my own for 3 days, paying for myself and traveling alone to berlin. why berlin? i have no idea, it just seemed like, the Place to land.

so now i am on a train somewhere in germany, listening to some old tortoise, munching on japanese crackers that my new york girlfriend packed in my backpack. the world is just a jumble of influences, and we are each repositories for our personal collections. how do we curate ourselves? make sense of all that is housed within our own museum of experience? what guide can we offer for visitors to our interior life?

i just reading an article today about carl nielsen, the danish composer, a firebrand it sounds like. he had several mottos including "music is life and life is inextuinguishable". not inexhaustable, incoherent, inarticulate or in order. no, he said INEXTUINGUISHABLE. so it goes on, and you cant wet it or tamp it out, move it or save it for later. here it is. here we are. i am being carried by something, i dont know what yet or where to, but the sense i have of approaching something i am meant to be doing- and doing it purely and to the exclusion of everything else-is growing stronger. what will be the object of this singular focus?

27 February, 2008

day three. vienna.


i spent my day off today alone. just getting my feet under me and working through my jet lag. which hasnt been all that bad, considering... vienna reminds me of alot of other european cities i have been to. copenhagen, zurich, brussels, and amsterdam. this is a good thing. it all works so well together. the subway was easy, the walks were short, the maps were right on. this morning i went over to the arnold shoenberg center. our favorite 12tone composer! the place is small but fantastic. a real working library and research organization with a little exhibit. and lots of hands on displays. shoenberg was such a physical composer. building his own pens and pencils, tape dispensers, painting many self portraits, binding his own scores. it reminded me to keep my hands busy, to connect my songs with objects, to get them out of my head. not just the words on paper, but the feelings behind them. i have always felt like my songs are little home-made brownpaper and glue beings. why not make them actual? i also had to laugh, they had a display of some home recordings shoenberg made, and to play them they had an old radio... an old radio with a tape deck on the side. hmm, where have i seen that before?

next, i went over to the natural history museum, it was created by one of the franz emperors several hundred years ago. so it was lots of big glass cabinets with stuffed animals in a hapsburg era palace. i loved it. there are obviously moral and scientific tensions with shooting animals, posing them in threatening positions and then displaying them absent of context. but there is a certain lesson in awe to be learned. you are standing next to a 3700pound sea elephant, now benignly splayed on a fake rock, but you are still aware of how huge and powerful this animal was, and its current muted state seems only to underscore the vastness of its power and beauty when it was whole and alive.

after an afternoon session of yoga, i decided to go to the opera. when in rome, or rather when in vienna... i couldnt get a ticket for a seat, but i was able to get a standingroom ticket, and therefore was innaugurated into a whole culture of opera watching. the standing room sections are a curious mix of the devoted aficionado and the dutiful tourist. i hope i fell somewhere in between.

i waited for over an hour, then found myself in the hall. it was so quiet! i had bought the closest ticket i could then had a little bite in the cafe, not knowing that the cattle call wasnt over! there is a lovely tradition of rushing to the standing areas- rows of steps with velvet railings and LCD monitors for the lyrics- and claiming your area with a scarf. so even though the hall was empty, the standing room steps were already populated by a colorful and proprietary mix of scarves. who knew? so i squeezed myself in a corner and hoped for some leeway from my fellow patrons. i ended up meeting two lovely ladies who truly adore opera. they gave me the lowdown on the do's and dont's of vienna opera standing. do stake your claim and stick to it. don't ever sit down, no matter how tired you get. 3 hours is a long time to stand wedged in a tiny corner, but i did it for madama butterfly and it was worth it. "m.butterfly" is one of my favorite plays and movies, so i was excited to see the opera its based on. i have to admit i was sad to find there was no trans-lady singer element, but the staging was beautiful. for my first opera, you cant complain about seeing puccini in the vienna staatsoper haus.

26 February, 2008

day two. zurich to vienna.

8 hours of sleep. miraculous! and a few mountains in between as we head to vienna. i took german in highschool and college, but somehow never made it here before. i understand about a quarter of what people are saying to me. which is a unique feeling. to get the gist but not the specfics... something else to pay attention to on this trip?

25 February, 2008

day one. new york to zurich. a day without a bed is no day at all.

our trip begins with the sound of breaking glass. our car service driver in brooklyn has locked himself out of our car. the engine is running, our flight is waiting, but michelle's purse and jacket are in the backseat and we cant leave until we can figure out how to get them out. after about 15 minutes of pretending there is another solution, we get down to it and break the car window, rescue michelles stuff and head to the airport.