There are things you can never trade – for good or for ill. I have friends who will never comprehend my approach to Life. I speak of numbers and of scales, of cliffs and gravities and perhaps they’ll just never get it.
I suppose I can survive that.
This past week I was stupid and gave into a whim. I drove to California (yes, Pennsylvania – what can I say? I like it there and I’m not quite ready to aim for the real thing yet!)
Crossing mountains under shafts of sun – it was like armies were being led safely around one another, each lit by the gaze of a particular god. I guess no-one was interested in a fight that day. Crossing the mountains and in to blizzard, making the first tracks in the snow, pulling into a truck stop where men huddled over coffee and I decided against staying in the warmth, pushing ever onward….
I Love the drama of such edginess. The contrast provided by snowfall – the white and black and white again of telephone lines, leafless trees, the lone track on asphalt.
California itself was beautiful. I gave few people answers as to why I was there, and generally lied to them. I won games of foosball, and rollerskated to Megadeth. I encouraged insanity and appreciated it as well. I headbanged to Iron Maiden and wrote to GWAR and performed really, really well.
I left at midnight after the Underground – decided it was time for the drive. I listened to friends back home tell me I was stupid, and I listened to friends back home tell me what they planned to do to me for their stupidity. I won’t hold my breath for their retribution, mostly because I’ll need every ounce I can get when they finally deliver the smackdown – probably aimed while I’m not looking.
Always sunny when I leave California – not so much at midnight – and to complete the beauty of it all I ran my Saturn into a storm that paced me all the way home. Cell signal abandoned me in the mountains and my battery died shortly after, leaving me alone in the dark, racing home at 75mph in the theory that must of the roads are straight and hydroplaning uses less gasoline.
I’m not very rockstar, I suppose – I went to art school. There I learned to be moody, appreciative of narrative, hateful of – yet steeped in – drama, and worshipful of beauty.
So, I’ve spent my birthday surrounded with people. Some of the best people, really – awesome creatures who I’ve known for a long, long time. I place such importance in people just met, but these are the ones that have bothered with me, stuck by me, cared and Loved and watched me be stupid and smart and daring and scared.
But I miss my Dad.
It’s my first birthday without him and it was so stupid. They told him how bad the cancer was on my birthday and that was stupid. I don’t have better words for how the world works than that… just… stupid. I come home and I’m trying to clear my head – I’m reading the Princess Bride – all these years and I’ve never read it – I picked up a copy from Target the other day while waiting to renew my license… and it starts with a description of how the guy who made it into a movie was introduced to it while he was sitting in bed, recovering from pneumonia… his father read it to him in broken English – and this THING comes flooding back… I haven’t remembered it in years. An ancient book that my dad used to read bedtime stories out of – Aladin and the Liliputians and rocs and – and I don’t remember the stories, but I remembered where the book was kept. It’s still there.
There aren’t many THINGS that are important – I don’t even know what to do with the family Bible – that’s just history. But this book is yellowed and crisp and beautiful and politically incorrect – and my introduction to all these other worlds. Hell, it’s my introduction to dreams and the idea that I should try to Live as if the world was as I wanted rather than as it is.
I usually give my Uncle George credit for introducing me to fantasy – stealing away to his basement room at my Grandparents’ house and watching old Beta copies of the Hobbit… how could I have forgotten this book? And my father reading to me on the bed he’d built for me?
He always had cold fingers…
I’m tired and guilty and 31. Prime again. Indivisible. I hope there’s strength in that number. Last year wasn’t so good.
By the nature of my profession and my schooling, the paths I creep are almost exclusively populated by other artists and musicians. It’s been that way for… Christ… 17 years… ever since I first stepped foot in an art school. These creatures are beautiful and individual, firey and fey and passionately, thoroughly alive… and used to being told about it.
I’m not saying we get sick of our compliments – it just means that sometimes we don’t believe them, especially from other artists and musicians. Somewhere along the line, a lot of that became far too political. It’s like a beautiful woman being told that she’s beautiful – can she take the compliment without feeling like there’s just a penis behind it?
I try to give compliments where they’re due. It’s easier with Heather in tow, because of course it’s less threatening (if you’re saying someone’s hot) and more convincing (when you’re telling someone they play great) perhaps because it’s always easier to take a compliment from a gorgeous woman…
In any case, this is about Loving other artists. I remember first encountering it with Will Schaff, though it was sort of a different thing. I felt like my opinion didn’t really matter at first… and then suddenly, when he invited me into I Love You And I Miss You – the original project, it was this huge glow! I remember playing the open mic at the New Deal Cafe, and liking Richard McMullins’ music, but I don’t know that he ever took my admiration seriously, simply because you HAVE to suck up to the guy who books the venue, right? And I WAS dating his daughter… soooo…
Let’s not even discuss trying to compliment Steve Key. Brushed off with a disbelieving glance cause you HAVE to suck up to the host of the Jammin Java open mic, right?
In any case, a friend of mine in Illinois was on the receiving end of a new song recently, and she sent me a glowing email about how she Loved being allowed into this kitchen recording session – she writes “Thank you, rob, for letting me hang in the kitchen with you today and hear you practice the new song….you have no idea, really, do you?”
I do have an idea, and it’s one of the things that I think is a shame about most of my fellow performers. They’ve lost that sense of wonder – and sometimes I’m afraid that I’m losing it too…
I’m one of the few “fanboys” left in my profession, I think. And as such, I think it’s sometimes hard for Brian Gundersdorf, or Steve Key, or Zoe Mulford, or whoever else, to take it seriously that I’m standing there thinking that they’re the best thing since really, really good sliced bread.
I ran across Zoe at the College Perk on my birthday, and she played me a tune off her new CD – something about keeping angels from the storm that was just stunning. A beautiful song, and the giddiness that came from being exposed to this sneak preview is hard to express.
In any case, Susan, I really DO get it. I really DO have some idea, because I sit in awe of my friends and peers, and I still can’t believe that they invite me into their confidences. Sitting in the studio with Audrey and listening to the perfect crystallizations of old, old songs – I’m in Love with the things these people do. And I send things to the people that I think can appreciate this sort of thing on the same level. The glow of a person in the presence of our product – that means more than any tip or good press or slurred bar room compliment. It’s close to the most important thing of all.
Fallen from the sky, I got an angel from Colorado on a plane yesterday. Sean Morse was a singer/songwriter we met on the second month of the Trip or so – out in Denver, Colorado – at an open mic somewhere. He’s been friends ever since, he calls every once in a while, sends me songs in French when I’m feeling down.
On a whim while IMming back and forth, he checked ticket prices to Maryland and booked a plane. Here he is. We’re supposed to play a gig tonight, but the snow’s coming down hard, and I’m afraid it’s not really going to happen. So we’re sitting in the house and watching the snow come down and listening to Sean sing and watching the TV on mute. Kate Beckinsdale as Alice in Wonderland… not too shabby. Probably better quiet though.
And I’m doing that thing that I see people do with their digital cameras. Reviewing the image while the action’s still going on. But there’s something to be said for writing in the moment.
His voice is entrancing, and he writes the Love songs that… I feel like if I’D written them, I’d have gotten different answers.
Snow is exquisite. It’s this incredible, magical conversion of the world into something Narnian and monochrome. It’s also damned cold and gets into crevices that have rarely been visited by anything else other than perhaps sand or Rowan. And I don’t really mean that about Rowan…
Though 81 South cancelled their show Saturday night, and though Joe Isaacs cancelled his, though I received three other emails about cancelled shows… we decided we’d strike out into the dark, windy, snowy night, and play our damned gig. I could point to integrity, or I could point to the overwhelming desire to play music… but mostly, we really, really needed the money, and if the coffeehouse wasn’t closing, then we were going to be there. Hell, it’s dinner and some cash, and on TOP of that, Sean had brought his guitar ALL this way, we bloody well needed to put it to use.
On the way out, roads were slippery and a little iffy, snow was coming down and Sean SAID he was going to do a little bit of screaming on the way, but high-pitched emissions of terror totally failed to manifest. I did okay.
Playing the show was a little bit disappointing as the native population of the Pour House had been decimated… or perhaps even… whatever a 20 to 1 ratio would be… yeah, whatever word that would… I’m going to write more about this later. Sean is kicking me. Eddie Izzard is on the tv, and I need to move a bit because … yeah… Sean’s toe. Oh, there’s a finger. He’s not ticklish, and he’s a LOT stronger than me. It’s sort of like fighting Holly, but I don’t plan to resort to the same tactics here. He’s a bit engaged.
Coffeehouses are such funny things. It’s the 15th by virtue of being after midnight, and Valentine’s Day has died for those of us who don’t have anything to do with a partner. For those couples out there, their efforts will no doubt prolong the Hallmark Holiday to dawn and beyond. For me, it’s just the dying reminder of a snow day, leaving ice and skid marks.
At the College Perk we’re pushing through the night with anyone declaring “this is a song for Valentine’s Day” getting a little bit of audience angst.
I’m constantly amazed by the talent of the people around me. Keegan is a man that I’ve known for a long, long time – and I really have no idea how he’s slipped past my attention for so long. His voice is strong and emotive and full of power. His writing is beautiful – thanks to Emilie for smacking me around the head with his lyrics. I’m getting to be a slacker when it comes to giving back what I crave.
And Dan Zimmerman? You’re new song is genius – “I’m sorry for your loss, I was going too fast”. I admire Dan’s writing so much, and I think he does a lot of what I want to do – maybe people don’t get the exact meaning, but the emotional content, the contact, the earnestness, comes through loud and clear.
Last night we played a full band gig out at Fletcher’s, as part of the Emergenza Battle of the Bands thingie. Not really a battle, not in the cool cage match kind of way, butstill, a really cool experience. We met a bunch of other acts and watched varying degrees of skill and charisma and volume. I was pretty impressed with most everybody there, though I believe one of the drummers was perhaps 12.
Just to throw me for a loop, I guess, the sound guy was a friend from high school named Dennis, who I haven’t seen in… well, who knows how long… perhaps as much as 10 years.
The last couple of nights have been rapid fire gigs, and I’m not sure if I’m discouraged by them or not.
Thursday night the full band headed out to play the Emergenza Battle of the Bands at Fletcher’s in Fells Point. I was really, really nervous about this – and as a matter of fact, had been suffering severe elephant-level panic attacks all week. Between getting rid of my old Saturn, severe lack of moneys, the battle of the bands, personal stresses…
whatever, I was freaking out pretty bad, and Thursday (since I had to get up early and deal with some of the above) was the first time my alarm clock woke me up before my panic attack did.
It was a minor victory.
The battle of the bands, however, was not. Even during sound check we knew we were severely out of place – grind-core, death metal, whatever you want to call it… that seemed to rule the day, with a couple of other sounds. I knew we’d be different. Hell, we’re ALWAYS different. I knew we’d pummel their little ear-balls pretty hard, but I wasn’t really sure how well we’d go over, and when it came down to it, I was horrified that we’d produced a grand draw of 3.
Sure, it was a Thursday night… sure it was a Battle of the Bands and our slowly-getting-more-mature crowd maybe didn’t want to be bothered with such a thing, but still – 3 was painful.
Really appreciative of the 3 that DID come out though.
On the upside, I don’t know that I saw anyone I didn’t like. We met a lot of people, and a lot of people really, really Loved us. We had a pretty tremendous night, to the point that while leaping around during our closing tune, Counting, I broke the strap on my guitar. Heather and Rowan and Sharif all kept things going as I sussed the issue – ripping it apart and affixing it with a guitar cable. It’s fun to return to cheers.
On the downside, it wasn’t quite enough and we didn’t advance to the next level.
That’s okay… the next night we played the fucking RAMS HEAD LIVE in Baltimore. Any of you who know Charm City know that that’s a pretty huge deal. 35k sq feet or so, huge people capacity. It’s where Brennan saw Steve Vai, apparently. Great sound system, little Millenium Falcon style entry ramp to the stage… I Loved playing here. It made me feel important. We were huge, broadcast on multiple video screens, loud and Lovely.
And then after that we were introduced to Mercy Creek who was nothing short of spectacular. After us, this may be my new favourite duo ever, though I’d like to see them go head-to-head with White Hassle.
Ok, I’ve run out of time, and I haven’t even gotten to Ryan Van Orsdell, the Christian coffeehouse, desiring a Mudd Puddle, driving to Frederick, rocking out, wishes, dreams, desires and other desecrations of my interior brain-meats.
We’re back out and travelling and my mind is settling easily into the routine of eating Cheerios found in the driver’s seat and watching the miles fly by.
Heather and I are taking my car for a change, and I even got to pack this time around – she and I have very different approaches to this most important of Trip activities: She’s a Tetris player, and the spawn of a Boy Scout family – and I think in general, she’s probably capable of fitting more actual crap into the car. However, I’m the spawn of a NASA engineer, and I think I approach things from a usability point of view. I’m all about making sure the stuff we’ll need is “on the surface” and the stuff we use rarely is harder to get to.
In any case – fyi (and because you care… I’m telling you you CARE) – the car is organized along the long axis, and the right half of the car is the stuff that comes in and out with us at almost every stop. The left half of the car is organized into two layers, with the surface being sound equipment that we MIGHT need at any given place as well as clothes and stuff that we need whenever we find a place to crash – and then the inner layer being the nitty gritty crap we don’t use very often (scanner, recording gear, jumper cables, extension cords) as well as stuff that we need to assemble (like press materials).
That’s just so you know.
In any case, for the first time in about 6 months we departed Maryland sans the threat
and imminent assault of rain, snow, thunder, cats, dogs, and / or the immediate menace of meteorological abuse and drove through Virginia (saying hi to Chelsea and Beau in our heads since they haven’t answered their phone) and onward into North Carolina.
First stop – Chapel Hill, where they will paint anything that stands still. Heather and I got into town about two hours before the open mic at the Nightlight (at the Skylight Exchange) started, and we wandered around town till we found a decent restaurant that we shouldn’t have eaten at but we really wanted to so we did.
I’ve been craving Mexican food ever since I got back from the Belly Button of the Mooooon, and when we spotted this cool little converted house we figured it was time to satisfy at least one of my burning desires.
Unfortunately, I was immediately reminded that this just isn’t the same stuff. I think that in Mexico I was often eating more traditional Aztec and Mayan derived dishes, with lots of lime and cilantro and fish and HUMAN FLESH and … things… that… make … meeee… .drooooooool. And THIS Mexican food is… well… more… Tex-Mex? I don’t know. It was good, but I was saddened. I should’ve just demanded cilantro and lime and a bunch of rice. I’d have been happier, thinking of that pretty woman from the black beaches of Cuyutlan.
The open mic itself – the room was very very cool – huge speakers and immense volume. I can approve of that coming out of a coffeehouse. Mostly a book and music shop with a big stage and benches scattered about like runaway school buses.
The talent was back and forth, and I was pretty much ready to leave until a very cool trio came up – guitar and a snare drum and an upright bass, all of them singing with an abandon and joy that reminded me of a happy version of the Violent Femmes. I was pretty taken with them and Heather and I even paused our vicious game of Egyptian Rat Screw to see if they’d come open for us at the Open Eye Cafe in a couple of weeks.
They said they’d check their calendar.
We returned to enthusiastically screwing the Egyptian rat until I hammered Heather into the ground. It was on. (yes, even the baby Mexican with the little plastic toy knew). And then, sadly for Heather at least, it was off.
Now we’ve retreated to our friend Jamie’s in Cary, NC. It’s early in the night, but wandering takes its toll, and I’m sort of sleepy… contemplating the fuzzy, fluffy blankets. Heather has been dead to the world for half an hour already, and I’m just hoping I can find my way to the bathroom in the dark.
So, finding the bathroom in the dark is becoming a recurring theme. Heather and I got into Savannah last night after a hideous fight with I-95 traffic. I think I’ve griped about the non-charm of the entirety of Interstate 95 before, but it seems particularly prone to having stuff strewn across it by truckers as well, so not only is there nothing to look at, there’s also invariably some stretch of it that is impossibly impassible because (in this case) someone has run an 18-wheeler into a wall and spilled huge steel girders all across the road.
So, we didn’t end up going to an open mic last night, because we wanted to play with Chris.
Chris is an old roommate from college, and one of my favourite memories from MICA. I know he reads this, so perhaps I HAVE to say that, but I actually mean it. A quick sketch of him would involve angular features, a quick wit hidden by a calm voice, gaunt ribs, honey and bizarre cartoon figures. I associate him with indie rock and Johann Vasquez and the Nightmare Before Christmas.
An interesting observation – when I encounter friends of friends, you invariably see old photographs and then you meet them and they’ve changed their hair, their manner, their mode of dress. One thing that I’ve really Loved about reencountering most of my friends as we’ve travelled is that they’ve remained pretty… well… “stable” isn’t the right word… but “static” sans the arrested development type overtones to the term. Heather noted it and made the hypothesis that artists specifically are such visual people that they latch on to an image of themselves pretty early in their Lives and stick with it. Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe our exploration of self just focuses on what we do rather than who we are cause we’ve given up on that so early, simply giving ourselves up as freaks.
There’s entirely too much thought going into that. Heather’s enjoyed meeting my friends, and likes the fact that she hasn’t really been caught by surprise by them. They look and act pretty much as I remember. I’m pleased that I sort of return the favour. Chris’ voice is a little deeper, I think, and he’s perhaps a little more serious, but he has cooler toys, and we spent an hour or so flying X-Wings and TIE Fighters into one another, trying to blow up one another’s capital ships. I’m still not quite sure how he managed to win. Shooting Ewoks in the head was also pretty satisfying, though not nearly so much as death-hugging a Wookie with a Wampa. It was a good night.