EARLIER THAT WEEK - I can’t find the sun, but I did find the butter. In the midst of a two or three day pause from the craziness of music and other freelance work, I am listening to Bob Dylan singing about vicious dogs in Nagoya a few weeks ago and trying to eat this bagel at eat-to-live speed (30 CPM - chews per minute) rather than eating-my-feelings speed (300 CPM).
I woke up wanting to shake the ugly feelings that arose yesterday and permeated my psyche like an especially pungent skunk. Don’t want to get stuck in any particular day from the recent past, even the good ones. Some bad and good ones both happened during an increasingly rare ankylosing spondylitis flare-up recently.
The performer’s bad show might have been a perfectly fine show for the crowd. Some of the bad shows are a little like trying to walk down the street while thinking too much about how exactly legs work. I probably sang a reasonable amount of correct words in reasonably correct pitches, but in my Tin Man-like state, I didn’t quite feel in command of my body, let alone the stage. Still, I didn’t let that dissuade me from my original idea of playing thirty original songs, many of which aren’t and have never been in my solo acoustic repertoire.
Doing that many self-penned songs in a row is like playing a series of short films about your life. So many places and faces. Mostly faces, for better or worse, that don’t tend to be found in the room when I’m playing. If I close my eyes, the gang’s all there! When I open my eyes, I see that I’m being supported by new friends and new strangers. I play for them, not some imagined audience from 1998 or 2007 or 2012.
I stared into the vast, backlit, late-night fog hovering over the lawn behind Mercer Museum, too exhausted to speak, alternately in awe of the beauty of the night and guilty about subjecting my partner to “The Many Moods Of…”. I kept thinking about a line from the Muddy Track documentary - “how can it be SO GOOD and SO FUCKING BAD?”
Still, I’ve been around just long enough to realize that it’s gonna get good again.
Twelve hours later, we were getting ready to drive to Lancaster so I could attend my friends Chris and Katie’s wedding as both a performer and friend.
As the bridesmaids walked down the aisle, I played "Rainbow Connection" and then switched to "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" for Katie's entrance. My girlfriend looked back from her seat and gave me a loving smile that said "nice work, ya schlub!" that I will never forget.
I did a little set for cocktail hour consisting mostly of songs they'd mentioned as being among their favorites - Fairport Convention’s “Come All Ye,” Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters Of Mercy,” Steve Earle’s “Galway Girl,” Townes Van Zandt’s “Be Here To Love Me,” “The Wild Rover” via The Clancy Brothers, and my choices: the traditional Scotch-Irish songs “Barbara Allen” and “Easy And Slow,” Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” and The Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me.” I was overjoyed to have Righteous Jolly spontaneously join me at the mic on some of the Irish tunes that we play in our group Uncle Argyle.
An older fella told me later while we both loaded our dessert plates that he wished I could have played all night. Ego = sufficiently stroked. Somebody else told me she was about to request one of the songs I ended up playing. ESP request = honored. Most importantly, the bride and groomed seemed pleased.
The love of friends, chocolate cupcakes, two Vodka Cranberries, tasty food, ceiling-dwelling peacocks, a startlingly loud turkey, goats on a hill, mine and others’ music bouncing off the shiny hardwood floors, emotional friends emoting, a bagpiper piping, and me doing something I was misguided enough to call “dancing.” (I could blame the joint pain but… it would be a cop-out.)
A rainbow appeared just a few hours after the medley of rainbow songs. It does get good again. Just keep moving. Of course, vodka doesn’t hurt. (Unless it does.)
The next day, we went shopping for souvenirs and stopped at Joni’s 340 Diner in Lancaster where the servings were so big that I started to feel like I was punishing myself for some undisclosed crime. We’d slept a bit poorly in a somewhat outdated (in a doorknob-falling-off kinda way) bed-and-breakfast near the wedding venue and took the whole day at ¾ speed - even our hike at Hibernia County Park. Still, that's a better speed at which to gawk at horse-and-buggys and little Amish boys walking down the road with fantastic black hats.
ABOUT A WEEK LATER - Nicky has just gone to sleep and I am on the couch in the brand new duds that I wore to my gig.
I got in from a strange job in Maryland at about 1 AM, slept restlessly, then put on some coffee and started brainstorming about songs to add to my repertoire. I kept thinking of incredible songs that I love but never tried on-stage. Lucinda Williams! Velvet Underground! Patti Smith! After the previous weekend’s musical challenges, I guess I wanted to keep the bar high and see if I could succeed with a whole new batch of music.
Nicky said that it went well. It was hard to read the crowd, but it seemed that each group liked at least one of the styles I played.
Except when I did “All Tomorrow’s Parties.” Nobody gave a shit about “All Tomorrow’s Parties.”
For that matter, why did I think people would know “Cuyahoga”?
Such unreasonable expectations. Like my expectations that each show will be packed with friends and family. There's always a next show. How can they miss me if I don't go away?
There was a time when the crises were coming fast and hard and everybody was telling me they wanted to do something to help out. The truth is that coming to a gig was about the best thing anyone could do for me because it helped me to stay employed.
Still helps today, too. The funny thing is that the people who are the most resistant to coming to gigs seem to be the people my own age. When I started out and was learning my craft on-stage, they were at every gig. Now that I know what I'm doing, where the fuck did they go?!
Their moms can still get down, though.
I get down with their moms instead.