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;


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


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".