07 September, 2010

Asheville NC + the story of the dress

it’s finally here! today i head to asheville NC to start the “distillation” anniversary tour. i’ll be performing the record in sequence for the first time, solo, for an intimate audience in a tiny theater. pressure? i’ll let you know.

i don’t remember the first time i played asheville, but i know i’ve been going there regularly since “distillation” came out, and it’s a town i have always felt at home in. i wanted the anniversary tour to stop in towns where i’ve built my best and biggest audiences, so asheville is a great place to kick off.

a couple weeks ago, an odd question popped into my mind. when was the last time i put on the dress i wore on the cover of my first record? hmmm, not since the photo shoot, 10 years ago. and then i wondered, does it still fit? i rummaged around my house until i found it again, in a box under a box at the bottom of a pile of sartorial bits saved from all points in my 32 years.

i’ve been planning the “distillation 10th anniversary” for a couple months now, but it wasnt until i tried putting on the dress that the anniversary became real. looking at myself in the mirror, wearing what had been so 2-dimensionally familiar for so many years, i suddenly felt like i stepped right back into the record cover.

10 years ago, i ran out the door of my loft apartment in providence, late for a photo shoot with my friend pam murray. i ran into my building-mate, beth, in the stairwell.

“do you want to borrow anything for your shoot?” she asked.

i had a few pieces of clothing, a tape deck that looked like an old radio, and my friend keith’s cowboy hat in my hand. other than that, i didn’t have much of a vision for my record cover.

“sure, got anything good?” i said.

i stood in the door of her apartment as she rummaged around.

“you want this dress? it doesn’t fit me.”


“you want some stockings? though they might be too fancy.”


“how about my banjo?”

“i don’t play banjo, but sure.”

during the shoot, pam and i used every single thing i brought, in different combinations. pam had a giant green chair in her studio, and the dress, with its little pattern of green and blue flowers looked good against it. i put on the stockings beth thought might be too fancy, and, all stretched out, they kept falling below my knees.

“oh well,” i thought, “it’s a look.”

of all the things i might remember about what turned out to be an iconic and successful shoot, what i remember most is that i had bought my first tube of lipstick at CVS so i’d look professional. i’d never worn, let alone bought, lipstick before. without realizing, i bought a garish and unnatural pink. i remember crouching in front of a reflective surface and gamely smearing some on while pam set up her lights.

“distillation” was my first attempt at a lot of things. recording an album. designing its look. embarking on this new life as a professional musician. putting on lipstick for the first time.

what you don’t know can’t possibly hurt you. in fact, regarding “distillation”, i’d say that what you don’t know would only get in the way.

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