Trapped again by the rain – I can’t believe the storms they have here. I’m almost sick of it all. I’m praying that there’s good weather tomorrow, but it seems that this whole outing has been plagued by rain, from the first day. We’ve been hunting for a wireless network, but there appears to be only ONE in all of Belleville that’s free, and they don’t let you use their outlets there, so my laptop effectively can’t use it.
SO, we’re waiting out the rain in a downtown parking lot in Belleville, Illinois – and I am FINALLY tired of rain.
Where do I start? Perhaps with “They may well have a perfect Life.”, or perhaps with “I think that playing three gigs in one day, perhaps, is too much.”, or maybe I could start with “So we drove up into the patio”, or perhaps even with “We may well have a perfect Life… almost” – but, instead of any of the above, I think I’ll start at the beginning, or just where we left off – and in the beginning, there was Doug…
Doug was an audience member back at CATH Inc., and someone who managed to spout all of the things that I ever wanted to hear. He was inspired by us, fired up by us, filled with wonder by us. He made me feel like we were getting someplace.
Every once in a while, someone seems to be spectacularly caught up in what we’re doing – and in this case, it just happens to be the man who came in as such a seeming cynic.
But Doug is a Believer – he’s a minister, and radiates that minister demeanor. Breakdown at CATH was delayed by conversations on spirituality and inspiration and God and obstacles, and I wish we’d had more time. I Live all day in the constant presence of so much cynicism and so much doubt and … even now, so much feeling that none of this should work, that Doug gave me a warm bath of optimistic splendour to wallow in.
But that was days ago… before the Rains.
The night after CATH, we broke camp, drove, and made camp. Granite City’s KOA welcomed us with dusty heat and columns of RVs like tanks and ranks of riled motorized infantry. After we got the tent set up, we immediately had to leave for St Louis to make it to the open stage (excuse me, Noiseday Hootenany) at Frederick’s Music Lounge.
I think that the thing I’ve Loved most about the midwest is the stories. It’s consistent that in the Midwest, we encounter the Storytellers – the people who’ve known their town for years, and who know the stories of their towns for years before THAT because of some sort of oral tradition. Somewhere approaching 35, I think Midwest Men are taken off into hidden canyons and into dying mining towns, and through complex and dangerous rituals, they are given white hair and wisdom and new vocal chords which emit rich, sonorous, rounded Midwest tones.
The host of Frederick’s Noiseday Hootenany (I just pray I’m spelling Hootenany right), Bob, was one of those storytellers, sans the hair.
It was mixed impressions right from the start. Frederick’s is eclectic to say the least – you have to ring the doorbell to get in, the ceiling fans are hung with underwear, various creatures’ heads decorate the walls (including Borgs and lawn gnomes) and the televisions are playing a collection of early 1900’s experimental silent movies, rather than football or racing.
The sound system gave us Hell, but we ended up playing a second time when it’s complexities had been further mastered, and the audience was still rather unreceptive, so it might’ve been just us.
Bob, however, was a wealth of random thoughts and knowledge. Initially, I was feeling waves of hatred for the outsiders who were complaining about monitor mixes – but very quickly, he was sitting next to me, whispering bits of trivia in my ear. Telling me about one song’s past, one player’s past, and generally giving me a running commentary of the shifting performers.
All in all, a very long night, as the talent was kind of rough, but the place itself was just so fantastic. Bob, who’s “real job” is that of photographer, was telling me about the Fred who initially created the paradoxical palace that is the music lounge…
About ten years ago now, Fred died of cancer – and cancer gives lots of warning, generally. Fred was showman – his personality was apparently perfectly captured by his creation – and had been selling tickets to his own funeral. Bob’s eyes gleam as he intimates the bar’s past to me – there’s Love for the long-gone Fred here…
And Bob was asked to do Fred’s “Death Portrait” – a beautiful, grainy, high contrast, Johnny Cashe-esque photograph which now hangs behind the bar. There was a whole lot of discount involved (Fred was adamant that a man shouldn’t be charged too much in his dying moments?) and Bob was proud of the final piece.
Fred immediately went to Kinko’s and had the thing made into postcards, and sold them to any and all buyers. Bob says that that’s just the sort of man Fred was.
I’m thinking the Cahokia Mounds, or Woodhenge, perhaps, could be one of the places that the aforementioned rituals take place. Beautiful wildflowers – Heather swore off stairs after the climb.
That night we went to the Belleville Summer Solstice Singer/Songwriter Festival Pre-party at the Belleville Midtown Revue, and met lots of the local artists and local music Lovers and local people and local colour. Storytellers and artists, and Mike and Terri Isenhart who work together as tax advisors and have recently bought a night club and even more recently created the Belleville Summer Solstice Singer/Songwriter Festival. They have some things to be proud of.
We met Greg Travous, local artist and former wanderer, who looks like a reincarnated Lorne Greene as Commander Adama – down to the expressive eyberows and the hypnotic voice that he uses to tell me that Oktoberfest here has nothing to do with celebrating German heritage – that Belleville, depite it’s primarily Germanic heritage, had buried all German references during World War II and never looked back…
I’m sorry to leave Belleville. A midwest town with a slow and stalling art scene. It’s sputtering and suffering birth pangs, but I think it’s growing.
The rednecks are fighting it, of course: One of our hosts, Dan, describes having bottles thrown at him from passing pick-up trucks, and his son, Clay has been smacked in the back of the head by guys in the back of OTHER pick-ups. Yet ANOTHER pick-up drove up to where a mural was painted, and laughed at the … waitaminute… male and female couple… calling them “faggots”. Sigh.
Everytime we told people where we were going, the response was the same… “Belleville? Belleville, Illinois? I’m sorry.” or “Watch our for the cops.” When we arrived there and passed these sentiments along, the response was … “well, maybe if you’re black”.
The town certainly has some problems, but we managed to only get second-hand knowledge of the underbelly of the place. It didn’t ruin our Love of the town. Houses are cheap, the artists are raising themselves slowly, and you can at least recognize the Enemy by that flatbed behind the engine.
The people who have FOUND something to do with their Lives, however, have really been creating something good here. Greg, the Adama-esque Storyteller I’ve mentioned, is creating an arts council, and is making headway with art shows that don’t include flowers or ducks. Mike and Terri Isenhart have used the revenue from their successful tax accountancy business to create the Midtown Revue nightclub, which is a new home for “adult theatre” and independent playwrights to strut their creations. Oh, and not to mention creating the Belleville Summer Solstice Dan and Amy are an artistic couple who have purchased a building and created not only a spectacular Living space for themselves, but a slowly growing coffeehouse which I wish I could transplant back to Baltimore.
The people are friendly and unpretentious, and all in all – I regret leaving this town. I regret that it’s 833 miles from home. I could Live here.
This from an email recieved the other day… says it all, really…
“Read about your visit to Belleville. You said that we were backward. ok here, just because we drive pickups doesnt mean that we are dumb. Mine cost almost thirty thousand dollars. Have you seen that fruity mural. One of the reason many of us are against the arts is that it is geared towards the queers. Ducks Unlimited (I’m a proud lifetimer)puts on an art show here once a year and their is not just good art but great art! The decoys at the gun show can be called almost real. This takes a great sculpter.The police hassle only criminals here . If they don’t like it they should move to criminal land . Look at Baltimore, MARYland . Do I need more proof? I don’t think so.
Loved your music though, along with Duck Tape “
SpiralBridge’s Makeready Press Gallery. Mostly posters and art deco on the interior, but there were a couple of really beautiful things hidden in niches here and there.
back at SpiralBridge, a beautiful tunnel of people and poetry and light.
It’s nice to come back to a place that even slightly feels like home. After all this travel to Houston, and Atlanta and New Orleans and other places that have been totally alien to us, Belleville with its familiar central fountain and familiar faces (even though I haven’t seen them in a YEAR) feels very, very comfortable.
After leaving Nashville on Wednesday morning, we headed through one last new state of this leg. Kentucky, after the multi-dimensional beauty of Tennessee and the caves of Alabama and armadillos of seemingly everywhere else, singularly failed to overwhelm. This of course will set me up for angry emails from the en mass population of Kentucky, but until we get an excuse to wander the state a little bit more, the highlight of that drive will still be all those happy cows standing chin deep in the pond.
We came into Belleville and collapsed on Susan’s doorstep. She’s a woman we… well, I think we only marginally met her last time around, but she’s been in touch all this time, and has been really helpful in planning our time out here this time. And with her, we’ve encountered a new animal…
And as with almost all the other animals we’ve encountered on the Trip, I start with the impression of “oh God a ___________” and get proven completely, and utterly wrong. As usual, I’ve had some negative experiences with parrots, but these guys are Lovely, and even like to sing along as we practice. I’m amazed by how clear Karma’s
voice is when she speaking, invariably out of turn.
From Sue’s we ran over to the open mic at the Stagger Inn… Again. All one name. I wasn’t at all sure what to expect – our experience with midwest bars over the past two years has lead me to expect a particular type of decor and a particular type of clientele… but, like the news article on the wall states – though “you can go and purchase ambience, you can’t buy mystique” – and the Stagger has a good metric tonne of that.
Even the food is really, really, really good. Belleville is determined to spoil us before returning to Maryland.
It’s also looking to return us to our home state in a state of optimism. Last night’s gig was a lot of fun. We went by our usual strategy of “fuck’em. If they’re not listening, play harder” and generally played feirce from just before 10pm to 1.30 in the morning, getting a huge audience response and a very, very happy owner. We met a lot of fun people, including a woman with incredible, Lovely long dark hair who figured greatly in my dawn-lit dreams.
Our time in Belleville has been somewhat up and down, and I’m afraid that our host, Susan (coincidentally our very first ilyANGEL) has gotten a pretty heavy dose of a very moody ilyAIMY. I mean, we’ve been very well-behaved, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t been as charming as I should be.
At least part of that has to do with the day we’re supposed to be celebrating today. I mean, the blame can be spread: I am tired. We’ve been playing a LOT over the past couple of weeks, few breaks in between, and in general, home is close temporally if not linearly and I’m very, very ready to be on my own and free to wander a little bit.
But, I’ve got to finally admit, a lot of it has to do with Father’s Day.
I don’t think I was aware of how it was bothering me at first. The constant advertisements have been constant reminders, and with his heightened awareness of pop-culture and the frequency with which he watches television or listens to the radio, I know my brother was being bothered by this for a while… but I think it’s finally sinking in for me – this is the first Father’s Day where I haven’t had to have my mom’s constant reminders to remember that it’s here. Today, Father’s Day falls just eight weeks after my own Dad has died.
It doesn’t really seem fair. I’m always so bad with dates, and it seems that the first time that all the banners and big posters reminding me of Father’s Day gifts and Father’s Day BBQs and proclaiming that this gift or that gift would be best for Dad on Sunday… this is the first time that all those advertisements have been completely unavoidable.
I do well at keeping my mind off of whatever it is that I don’t want to think about. Yesterday, not only did we play the gig at the Ground Floor, but we’d also picked one up from the owner of the local Irish bar, the Castletown Geoghegan. He had seen us last year and remembered us well enough that when he spotted us on the street, he walked over, introduced us and offered us money to play his bar.
Before that, we’d gone and seen Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which was truly awesome in a way that only Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt can be. Brad Pitt rocks my world, and completely keeps me from thinking of Father’s Day…
In general, Belleville has been very, very welcoming. So many familiar faces, and it doesn’t seem that we were here so very long ago. It’s been like some sort of homecoming – a much-needed recharge on the last leg of this Trip.
Last night at the Ground Floor, walking in and seeing Dan and Amy smiling in recognition, knowing that they had ASKED for us to come back… that’s a really good feeling. It gave us some fierce aura of energy to push through the night with. We played with everything we had left and we had dancers up front, something we haven’t had in weeks.
I’ve been talking to the local bar owners, and I even think that there could be money scraped together to get the full band out here! Now if we can just scrape the TIME together to get the full band out here… preferably long before next-year’s festival!
Today, Heather and I got up and shook off our sleep and headed out to a cook-out/pool party that “the Ducks” (the Duck Tape Duo) were throwing. I think it was
a lot of fun, meeting them outside of a bar, meeting their family and their kids, until it sort of clicked in my head that it was a FATHER’S DAY party. Then it sort of paled. I couldn’t sustain the energy, and I couldn’t sustain the mood. I knew I had to call my mom and night was coming on and it was time to head out. I’m not even sure that I recognized it for what it was at the time, but lying in bed upon our return, staring at the ceiling and letting my mind wander, I suddenly realized what I didn’t like about the day… I didn’t have anything to celebrate any more.
I liked watching the kids, and I liked watching the Ducks and their dogs and their rabbits and miscellaneous creatures… but I’m very far away from home, and I miss my friends and family and their creatures.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel. And we plan to draw the curtains. The light is the daylight of Sunday and we don’t have to get up till they’re ready to kick us out of our hotel room and after a full week of 7am mornings (if not earlier) and four to six hour long performance days, we’re really, really ready for a cliché Sunday: i.e., a day of REST.
But tonight we’ll play one last show to what is usually one of our most enthusiastic audiences, and I’m all too glad to send them the last ounces of energy that I’ve got. I’m looking forward to sending it all out, maybe saving JUST enough to make it back to the room tonight and crawl into bed.
Or maybe I won’t save nothin’ and they’ll have to just let me sleep at the bar. As I remember they do a pretty decent breakfast.
Speaking of breakfast – over eggs and French toast this morning our friend Susan was talking about how Bob Dylan songs were one of those rare things that you couldn’t get on Youtube because of how aggressive Dylan’s lawyers were – she mentioned she found it “off-putting” and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
I think it was Trent Reznor / Nine Inch Nails that first made me aware of a “pay what you want” release – something that I thought was really, really threatening at the time. For all that it made a huge artist’s latest album instantly available to absolutely anyone – it also set this horrible precedent for large artists to just give their music away. Maybe he was ahead of the curve and had seen how Youtube and other non-music retailers would undermine an artists’ ability to control their catalog, but I think it was something far more altruistic but short-sighted… in wanting to spread his music as widely as possible, he gave the perfect argument for anyone not feeling like you should pay for music to do just that.
So the idea that an artist as big as Bob Dylan (or, the other place I think we’ve encountered this : the Eagles, Prince too I guess) would clamp down on their creative output in such a way is kind of heartening – here are respected artists – huge artists – deciding what they want to do with their content and showing that they’ve got the right to do just that… but of course there’s also the feeling that you’ve GOT to be that big to be able to enforce that right.
ilyAIMY doesn’t buy into a lot of the streaming services, and our most recent albums aren’t available there. Spotify and Pandora, Google Play, Youtube, et cetera – maybe we’re undermining fans’ ability to access and share our music, but the math is kind of stacked against that model. In order to get paid on Spotify or Pandora you have to accrue thousands and thousands of plays – youtube’s even worse as now they have requirements of a thousand followers and x amount of generated content a week to even monetize your content – and even when you hit the threshold to be paid, those thousands of plays are only netting you pennies.
Or, you know, I can sell one mp3 and get two orders of magnitude in payout – or sell one CD and get 15 times THAT. Yeah – I only make $15 off a CD sale, but in order to make that amount on Spotify I’ll need you to play my song 214,000+ times…
So yes, if we went viral in some way we could make money off of streams – but when someone tells me they wish our current album was on Spotify so they could support us… well, I hope that they understand that in order to “support” us as much as the person who buys a disc they’re going to have to buckle in and listen to cicada end-to-end non-stop for the next 686 days…
So, you know…. Get on that. Oh. And, could you do that twice please because we haven’t pegged the minimum payout for most streaming services yet – kthanksbye.