And everytime there’s a rough night or a rough patch or a slow stink of depression forming around me, something good comes through…
My friend Holly wrote: “last night, when Bill Shill did Molotov Swell and everyone was singing along (b/c it’s just such an amazing song that people were instantaneously compelled to learn once you guys left) and some people even had tears in their eyes, I just kept thinking, “Man, I wish Rob and Heather could just see this – just be transported here for at least this very moment and then maybe they could see how much what they do really does matter and really does mean something.”
Something’s working. SOMETHING is working. It’s a bright, sunshiny morning in Morrisville, NC. At first the sun was adverse to my mood, but slowly I grew conscious of a very, very nice morning temperature… after a lush, hot shower, I figured that I MIGHT just be ready for the day.
“Wake me up when September ends,” is the Green Day line splashed all over FM radio at the moment, and so it is – Happy October. Month of fall, of high school homecomings, of Halloween. We will return just in time to see the leaves begin to change. I will visit my special tree at the University of Maryland, which changes firey and brazen like no other I’ve ever seen, and I’ll have to admit there is no place on Earth where it can be fall forever, and nowhere I can hide from my 25th birthday.
The end of September marks a first for rob and I. I don’t like to tell people how much I make for a living. I find when I do, it goes one of two ways – either it is a badge of honor confirming how little I’ve managed to live off and how frugal I’ve been to accomplish it, or it is to be looked upon with pity. I personally vascillate between those two feelings on the subject. Point being, last month rob and I made the most money we’ve ever made … respectable salaries even. We worked our asses off for it … and then we got lucky. And I think that is what I’ve learned about this trip and this business: I always hated the idea of building a life on luck. I like control and the result of effort and accountability, and there’s something completely out of your hands about luck … but I’m not going to speak badly about it when it’s treated me kindly. Sometimes you just have to take luck the way a frustratingly modest person eventually takes a compliment. (little rob note: NICE line Heather!)
Open mics are a lot about luck, and last night we had the good fortune to wander into a really pleasant one at the Pheasant Creek Coffeehouse. With the close of the Six String Cafe, a more southern sister to Jammin Java in Vienna, VA, the local musician refugees have been scattered to the North Carolina winds and wandered into places like Pheasant Creek to find their new open mic home. Hosted by the North Carolina Songwriter’s Co-op, we sipped on chocolatey mochas and iced ginger lime teas while waiting for the night to get started with the entrance of host, Dana. After he opened up the night, we were first up, and I was pleasantly surprised when, as I started unsheathing the drum, an obvious light bulb went off over one of the audience members’ heads.
Jamie Purnell had seen us compete as semifinalists at the Mountain Stage Newsong Festival in West Virginia this year, where he had competed in one of the early morning rounds. He also is friendly with Susquehanna Music and Arts Fest winner Zoe Mulford and Carrboro local Jonathan Byrd, and pretty much knew every festival, musician and what-have-you we’ve ever encountered. It’s a ridiculously small world. Jamie’s voice reminds me of Vince Gill, and he knows how to play Richard Shindell songs – I thought rob was going to fall over when Jamie broke into “Transit.” We three closed the coffeeshop long after the open mic had ended, along with Jamie’s friend Dan Tan who also performed at the open mic, and who introduced Rob and I to “Stay In Tune” strings.
Good voices in the open mic – that is something that relies heavily on luck. You never know what you’re going to get, but last night was a good smathering of bluegrass twang from Bo Porter (who split his time between Alaska and North Carolina, lamented that he couldn’t find hairspray to get his very long hair into a suitable pompadore, wielded a guitar signed by none other than Merle Haggard and sang a song containing the line “gotta be jelly cause jam don’t shake like that”), smooth pop/folk/jazziness from Jamie, pop/emo from Dan, and a song called “I’m Not Gay” from a traveling duo who’s lead singer apparently had “a quality.”
It was a warm place. The blue-eyed girl working the counter came over to tell me how wonderfully unique she thought my voice was, which is the best compliment as far as I’m concerned. I often feel like I am still finding my voice. Another great compliment was that we were also joined by Katy, a fan who caught us at the Six String Cafe a long while back and has been jonesing to see us ever since. It’s nice when people like you so much they bring a parent, too.
Tonight is the house concert, and I have to admit, I’m a little nervous. We haven’t really done this sort of thing before, and I remember the way the big house concert hosts looked at us at Kerrville. What makes this different is that these people put tonight together completely because they wanted their friends to see US, the us they saw that night we played Caffe Driade and were very much being ourselves. So I figure we just keep right on being ourselves and see what happens.
Strange how autumn sprang upon us. Of course, in all honesty, the air is still very summery. but the nights are getting cooler. I’m creeping my head closer and closer to the window like a fish trying to get back into the water.
The house concert went really well. It’s almost our first one – we’ve played one for Joel Pomerantz with Syl Smith before, but that was done with huge amplifiers and was more about playing around in someone’s studio than it was about the couple of attendees. We’ve played the “i love you And I Miss You” house concert, but the audience pretty much consisted of three people not counting the other musicians.
Really, this can be pointed to as our first time, I think. We were both nervous. Lori had picked us up at Caffe Driade, asked us if we’d be interested. She’d wanted to have a house concert for a long time, had been very familiar with them back in California where she and her husband had Lived before. They had bought a house in Durham making SURE they had a huge room appropriate for house concerts.
The acoustics were beautiful, and I Loved listening to Heather warm up as I snacked on Tom’s (Lori’s husband) oatmeal raisen chocolate chip cookies.
Now, I could go on about the audience – the Lovely, friendly audience. I could go on about the cats. I could go on about the acoustics and I could go on about how nice the night was in general. I’d like to go on about the food, but really, having no access to any of it right now, it would just make me salivate and I would short out my computer, and I can’t afford that.
Most house concert audiences seem to focus on the 40+ age group, wisened folkies who know what they want to listen to, and who generally turn ilyAIMY away without a second thought. It’s why we’re just NOW playing one, and why I don’t really expect to play one again any time soon. Though it was a lot of fun not having a barrier between me and the audience, it was also very disconcerting. I look forward to doing it again, but I don’t really feel that I’ll be placed in the situation till we get back to Durham.
This was an interesting age range. My best guess would be that the youngest was in his late twenties, and the oldest in his early 40’s, with the main concentration falling right in the early 30’s. It was strange to effectively be amongst my peers. It doesn’t happen often. Heather and I generally play to coffeehouses and bars where young twenty-somethings are trying to pick one another up and generally get inside one another.
The energy and the flirtation is fun, and I was pleased to find that the energy wasn’t too different with this group – but a different focus. I think it was awkward to be in a room of my peers and sort of realize I was the only one who was single. It was a little frightening. They were all home-owners and family-builders. Not that I was expecting anything else, it was just disconcerting.
In any case, Lori had gathered about 20 people. Some knew what they were getting into, others didn’t, but I enjoyed meeting them and they mostly seemed to enjoy the company if not the music (though most enjoyed that as well). We kept them up late with road stories and some songs and generally had a really good time.
The last couple of days have been “off”. Sunday and Monday have been spent at the mall, wandering back and forth, reading and watching movies. We got out to see Serenity (which was nothing short of spectacular, though very sad) and Transporter 2 (which was something short of spectacular, which was very sad). I do Love mall-walkin’, but I’ve got the feeling of stress and wasted time, and I’m eager to get back to playing. I’m working on a new song about hanging Christmas ornaments.
I keep remembering my dreams, which though welcome, is a rarity. It means I’m ACTUALLY sleeping, I suppose. Getting enough rest to even manage REMiness and dreaminess and rememberance. The night before was a very nice erotic fantasy about someone I’d met recently. I’m not going to go into too many details, but I fear it was kind of stereotypical porn-ish. I was some sort of pool boy or maintenance guy and the woman was looking for help getting her bed hooked on to something. She asked if I had something to nail it with, and it really went downhill from there.
Good dream though. I woke up in a confusion of hair and disappointment.
Last night I dreamt of being in the studio (yes, I know that’s a damned HINT) and of fighting with our studio engineer. I’d dreamt that a number of the tracks had been screwed up and I woke up angry and cramped.
It started off with Star Trek. Heather and I have been getting up later and later, and now grip consciousness at just about the time that Spike TV starts showing its daily regimen of Star Trek. Two episodes of Deep Space 9, three episodes of the Next Generation. I agonize at their inattention to TOS.
I find it important to stress that Heather usually flips the switch here.
In any case, we tune in to find Major Kira (?) describing a death scene, lamenting that she hadn’t been there for her father. She is very detailed, describing how the breathing slowed,, was more agonized every moment, how every time he exhaled they were SURE it was the last breath, and then he fought for another ragged inhalation. It was nasty to wake up to someone practically describing my own father’s death. Family, gathered on the bed and waiting.
I tried not to let it get to me, and indeed, after five OTHER hours of Star Trek and work on the computer and chatting with friends and fiddling with chords, it was pretty well forgotten.
Heather spent time in the kitchen being strangely domestic. She created mushrooms and potatoes and lemon flavoured lunch. Out of character, but I wasn’t complaining.
Somehow time always creeps up on you, though – and before we knew it, it was time to pack up and get our Lovely little tushes out to Caffe Driade to play a gig in the warm North Carolina night. Fiddly set up, moving iron chairs and finding cables, avoiding spiders and giant millipedes. I finally got my amplifier reset they way it’s SUPPOSED to be (after the beating it took during the Firedean gig) and was ready to play a show through it. We got through a song before it started to sprinkle. We got to the first chorus of “Old Love” before it started to out and out rain. At first I tried to keep the solo going while strolling out to the merch table and flipping the mailing list closed with my guitar’s headstock… but soon it became obvious that we needed to get stuff under cover.
People came out of the woodwork to help us move shit, and but there was still an agonizing slowness as all the wired-together fragments of our cobbled together sound system had to be detached before they could move. The whole time I was just waiting for the shock or the sudden lock of muscle that would tell me that water had gotten into the amplifier or connected me to a power strip.
Of course, at this point, mere wall current isn’t something that I really fear, but it would’ve
been a sign of probable damage to the equipment that was our Life’s blood. But we had to sort cables before I could get the amp moved, and we couldn’t just unplug everything, cause it would’ve all taken a LOT longer in the dark…
We sat on their porch under the overhang for a while, sorting chords and practicing some songs, but eventually we just cleaned up and moved out and came back to Jamie’s apartment in Cary.
We settled down to music and Scrabble with Jamie – Heather hastily scrounged together a mix of music that led me through all sorts of moods and made everything okay. It made me feel inspired and good and ready to take on the world again. Music has that power, still, somedays. It might have helped that I did a lot of name-taking and ass-reaming in the Scrabble games (Jamie won the first one, but only by a couple of points).
I’m not going to say it to her face (in our tradition of not giving too many compliments and keeping one another balanced on a fine knife-edge of agony about one another’s musical tastes) but she’ll read the Journal eventually and discover that I think that… THAT MIX at least, if not her overall taste in music, was exquisite. Moments of sweet agony wracked me in conjunction with Richard Shindell’s Dar Williams cover of “Calling the Moon”, “Architect” by the Decemberists, “Speed of Trees” by Ellis Paul and that train song by Elliot Bronson. We know so many amazing people, and they make amazing noise.
It wasn’t till we ended the games at 2am that I realized how my day had come full circle. My father raised my brother and I on Scrabble, using it to expand our vocabulary. My Dad’s mastery of two letter words was complete, and when I play Scrabble, I run my memories through a flipcard of past games with him, looking for words that I can use. My brother’s speciality was throwing down letters and letting my Dad challenge them, and together they’d discover such unlikely words as “eft”, but my Dad always won, for years. It was a big deal when I surpassed him.
In any case, my father’s two last Scrabble games marked his decline. One, I think against Del and George and I (?) he reamed us. He couldn’t sit up for very long, but he did some substantial Scrabble ass-kicking. The last game though, I remember coming home and finding my Dad sleeping on the couch, and my Uncle and my brother talking quietly. Scrabble has a spread to it, and you can see the words scattering over time in the game – and I could see my father’s words getting less and less coherent. He’d taken the lead in the game, but only because my brother hadn’t been pointing out that he’d been confidently laying down nonsense. I’d like to think that it was my Dad’s private little joke, that he was purposefully doing it and knowing he could get away with it, but it made me cry a LOT.
Last night, after we turned out the lights, that flipcard memory of Scrabble games turned into other remembrances. How my father used to “paint on my face” with his fingertips (my mom would scratch my back to put me to sleep when I was young). I remembered being small. I always had trouble sleeping and I’d pester him with questions about planets and stars… and death, I remembered that I’d never ask my mom questions about death, but I would always ask my Dad questions about how things died – my grandfather (who I can’t remember anymore), my hamster, stars and galaxies. The stories of how things ended kept me up for hours, lying awake in the darkness, staring at glow in the dark stars on the ceiling slowly losing their radiance.
Sigh. It was a long night. I fell asleep around when Jamie went to work in the morning.
Well, my sleep schedule is officially upside down. I’ve been falling asleep later and later (this morning the last time I saw a clock it was well past 7am) and getting up closer and closer to 1 in the afternoon. I’m not proud.
With this assistance of a DVD of Firefly, of course we’ve been dragging Jamie down our path right with us.
Thursday night we played a beautiful not-so-little wine bar in Raleigh, North Carolina called the April & George Gallery. Good artwork on the walls and a good sound system.
Unfortunately, a tiny little audience, but the owner was really Loving us, and we even had acouple of friends drop in from down in Wilmington. Oh, and finally I got “damn, I think you might be BETTER than Keller Williams” as opposed to a mere comparison.
Last night at the Open Eye (which has moved to a new, huge location) or friend Sean popped up out from Maryland, presumably just to cause trouble. He did. He does. Love him for it.
We came back to Jamie’s with her friend Jeff last night to have a little birthday celebration for him that consisted of squash and root beer and Robot Chicken and Firefly and some sort of book about America. Slowly our time in Cary draws to an end, and though I’m pretty happy here, my brain’s been weird about staying in one place for so long for a while now.
I’ve been very happy playing guitar recently – yeah, even happier than normal, and I’ve been feeling like my playing and my singing has really been hitting its stride recently. Just sort of – I guess like we’re doing it enough that its flowing the way it ought to. My muscles feel sore but good after a show, and my fingers hurt but in a GOOD way, and in general, I feel like I’m… balanced somehow.
Sitting in a coffeeshop, passing the time, trying to get my email, hating the sheer bloody-minded stupidity with which Windows networks wirelessly. If I had it all to do again, I’d have kept my bus and bought a Powerbook. Sigh.
We’re home again in Wilmington – though in all honesty, Cary was beginning to feel a lot like home as well. Jamie was a great person to just hang out with, watch television, eat. We like eating. Jamie was easy to seduce into television and eating. We ate a chocolate cake. And a lot of Cheerios. We watched all of Firefly. And some Robot Chicken. And the Hobbit. And the Last Unicorn. Forgive us Father for we have sinned slothily.
Saturday night we earned our rest, though. We played at the Pourhouse in Raleigh, North Carolina. Last week was interesting because every place we played we’d advertise the Pourhouse show and people would say “Wow! You’re playing the POURHOUSE?!! You’re going to LOVE it there!” And then they would go on about the sound and the cement bar.
So I was wary. Most places that audience members Love to go SEE Live music, they’re often not fun places to play it. I’m not really sure why I say that, but I’m sure somewhere deep inside of me I know this to be true.
In any case, no matter how awesome the venue was supposed to be, we also knew we’d been booked on the same day as the Rally in Raleigh – a biker rally was blocking off the street where we were playing, making getting there tricky, making it hard for all the other drummers to get their loads in on-time…. and on top of all the problems we KNEW were coming, it rained HARD alllllll day. It was an interesting night. We got there at 7pm. My mistake. Never be early. Never be on time. Not unless you’re in charge. Cause if you get there before everyone else (and everyone else WILL be late) people will assume YOU’RE in charge, and express to you all the problems with “your” plans for the night.
Jack, the soundguy, was awesome, and pretty friendly – but he really wanted to let me know that I was pretty stupid for having so many bands booked in one night and how I was crazy for thinking that it would all fit and… well… I set things straight REALLY quick, and Heather and I took advantage of the very very nice couches scattered around.
It’s interesting being at an event like this – getting there first and watching the other acts filter in. I think the next person to come in was the bass player for Viva La Venus – (she’s on the right in the pic to the left – note her flaming boots… if I’d noticed them when she came in, well, I’d have had a new friend to talk to!) and then Coyote came in shortly after. I recognized THEM from their website, and we got to talking. Their percussionist was someone I actually vaguely knew from Baltimore, as he used to play percussion for Sarah Pinsker.
I wasn’t sure what to expect over the course of the night. A weird mix of metal and folk and lots of stuff in between. And we were at the very end of it all. It was really flattering – the people who did know us kept pushing our name. If nothing else, everyone knew how to pronounce us by the end of the night, but unfortunately, by the time we hit the stage, only about a fifth of the audience was still there (estimating about 30 people left in the room). But, we rocked them. Sitting and listening to that music and knowing we were going to have to compete with Marshall stacks and leather pants, well, it gave us a little extra verve for our performance. We left there well-Loved but utterly exhausted. So we went back to Jamie’s and totally failed to watch any Firefly whatsowhoever.
So pretty. So drunk. Sigh – We played the open mic at the Front Street Brewery and got a pretty massive response. I Love having people make such a big deal out of us, but the most vocal was a very wiggly, very intoxicated blonde who may or may not have been hitting on Heather. She really liked her smile, and spent a lot of time pressing herself against both of us to express how “beautiful” we were.
Hello! HELLO!!!! Over HERE?!!? Sigh. Anyone sober? No… oh. Sigh.
Happy Lizard Day, ladies and gentlemen. I woke up feeling slightly blue and stepped out on the porch and sat on the chair to watch the shrubbery come alive with little green heads and secret movement. Sunshine and warm decking and warped smooth wood… I saw a head poke up by a stump down by the road and I approached it cautiously to discover a skink fully the length of my forearm! He backed away at first, and then deciding I wasn’t toooo big a threat, he ran into the bushes over my toe. Ah… sweet, sweet lizardy contact.
Why was I blue, you may ask?
Cause we had an awesome gig last night, that’s why. We played the Sweet and Savory Cafe and made friends and got paid well AND in bread. Sweet, sweet cinnamon and raison bread.
And you still ask why I was blue?
Because the hole in my guitar has been rebirthed. God DAMN it. The tips in the jar did NOT add up to the couple of hundred dollars I’d need to replace my Seagull, or even the hundred fifty or so I’d need to fix it. God DAMN it. I’ve got some letters to write.
Wilmington is always just such a pleasure for us. We get to walk around and admire thehumans walking the streets, we’re close to the water (but not SO close that a giant squid could grab us up and thrust us struggling into its beak-like maw) and through some fluke of fate, in the 5 or so square blocks that make up their downtown, there’s about 20+ places for musicians to play.
Wednesday night we played at Sweet and Savory. Thursday night we returned to Costello’s – we didn’t get thrown out this time, and actually had a couple of guys dancing to the music. Unfortunately, I was definately feeling a gloom about my person, and perhaps wasn’t as good at capitalizing on the gay atmosphere as I otherwise could’ve been. My mood has simply been fluxuating so quickly, up and down – I’m not really sure where that’s coming from. I mean, there could be any number of reasons, but nothing solid that I can point to.
I think mostly I’ve just been lonely, for friends or romances or family, all of which have faded.
Being in a gay bar and watching lots of happy men pick one another up and put one another down and generally having a good time, it didn’t distract me one bit.
Last night DID distract me though.
We played the Front Street Brewery. Now, a couple of months ago we had our first experience there and we really just had a great time. I Loved the people who worked there, I Loved the people who came see us. By all accounts, we had about 50 or so people slated to come by and see us last night. They didn’t. There were a lot of missing faces, but we seem to have a real talent for capturing the crowd there, as well as for drawing people in off the street.
It didn’t hurt that Rowan had driven down for the weekend. Rowan always doth lift my funk.
I must admit, the night started a little iffily. There were little details that hadn’t been worked out – a surprise $3 cover, a soundguy who didn’t show, and … by the way – who was going to pay him? But I chalk that up to the fact that the Front Street Brewery has been acting as a venue vs restaurant for less than a month now, and they’re still working things out. That’s cool. The gig more than made up for it, all promises were fulfilled on the part of the venue, and though we missed a lot of faces, we were still told that it was the best night that Front Street had ever had.
I can Live with that.
We had people dancing to Deep in the AM, and even extended it out into Locomotive Breath just to keep the inertia going. By the end of the night we were all pretty worn out and hung over from too much cigarette smoke. Of course, that didn’t keep us from hanging out with Brian out on Front Street, playing music and helping him collect some more tips for the night. There were two fights in front of the Brewery over the course of the night, but they were kind of absurd. Drunken brawls in Wilmington don’t seem to carry the same terror for me as they do in Baltimore.
In general, drunk kids weaving up and down Front Street at 2am seem a lot more harmless than they do elsewhere – though looking at those faces, I simply don’t believe that even half of them are 21. Perhaps that’s just my age talking, but everyone in Wilmington looks like a teenager. (I KNOW that I also spend a lot of time saying that most of the population of Wilmington is also really, really hot – let’s just leave that alone for right now, okay?)
The next day we got up, Deanne found some butter beans for Rowan, we found some space in the Saturn for both the butter beans AND Rowan, and we pointed our path northbound to Charlottesville, VA….