Friday, September 30, 2005

Tears Behind Velvet: Hello New York! (Part II)

After a three day reunion with The Hootenanny Crew with a genuine kook named Melwood Cutlery who writes haunting and beautiful songs but is prone to furtive late night arm stroking and a relaxed and summery Amy Honey thrown into the mix this time. Oh yeah, and a typhoon-sized storm which submerged several on-ramps and had our man Ford arriving in Kingston, pale and visibly shaken from his voyage, we all ended up on Wolfe Island at Virginia the Witchfarmer's house.

Wolfe Island is a crazy place indeed. So close to Kingston, yet surprisingly rural with its swirling open skies, pastures of forgotten hay bales and an outhouse resembling the final scene in Kingdom of Spiders. Even William Shatner himself might have for once, considering the odds, taken the road less dramatic, and relieved himself outside.

It has of late become difficult to diagnose which physical symptoms are the result of the residual mistreatment and which are curable. I am referring to the difference between voluntary experimentation versus downright poisoning. Since you'd have to be sort of fucked up to do any of this, it's easy for the lines to become blurred. When something feels really wrong, it is interesting to note that the initial reaction is something like, "Well I'm surprised this hasn't happened sooner." Or "Wow, at last a sign that there are some parameters in place here!" What I am leading up to is that when Tolan arose the morning after Wolfe Island he was puffed up to thrice his normal size.

Indeed, Tolan was swollen. And of course, everyone became instant experts on the matter.

"I think I was bitten by a spider," said Tolan.

"Nah. That's Swimmers Itch!" said someone authoritatively.

"It's hives I tell you. Hives!" said Ford who suffers.

In any event, the dude looked like a cross between the Elephant Man, the kid from Mask and (how's this for an obscure reference?) Keefer Sutherland after Reese Witherspoon goes to town on him in Freeway 2. Dan Whiteley suggested that since we come from Out West, our immune systems are just plain ill-suited to the foreign Ontario atmosphere -- like we were from another planet or something, which explains why we don't know what the hell they're saying around here half the time but that's a whole other rant. Wait until this fall when we show our cousins from Back East the majesty of mould and silverfish that the dampness brings and see how ye fare me hearties!

That morning we were on our way to the Annual Fred Eaglesmith Picnic which is held on a Nature Preserve near Aylmer. Tolan said he felt up to going and lay in the back seat of the New Yorker the whole way there in hopes of returning to normal size for show time.

When we arrived six hours later, Canadian folk legend Willie P. Bennett took one look at Tolan and steered him to the trunk of his car where he opened a suitcase containing an impressive selection of drugs. "How's your breathing?" he asked while scanning the labels of various bottles. "Mmm. Hmm. Your heart all right?" He then gave Tolan a horse sized antihistamine saying "Just take one. Taking two doesn't help. And don't drink. Your heart will explode."

And in moments Tolan had shrunk down to his usual dimensions. He was still kind of pale but way better. We played a set to all the Fred Heads who were sated from three days of music and toadish in their lawn chairs in the bright sunlight. Tolan assured me that he was feeling all right and didn't mind staying even if he couldn't drink and so I partied for two, meeting up with a former lounge piano player from Manhattan who knew all the words to Every Song Ever Written. I believe it was close to 5am, the fire glowing embers and the sky tinged with pink when we sang one last lusty chorus of "Don't Pull Your Love Out On Me Baby!"

Shit. What was I thinking? I should get a tattoo on my wrist that says "Remember Tomorrow, Genius!" Or maybe an ankle bracelet that would cause some sort of noticeable discomfort starting at 2am and not cease until I was horizontal with my eyes closed and alone. Six hours back to Kingston to play a benefit for a community garden at a cafe called The Sleepless Goat. Again, what was I thinking? A sea of nursing mothers, a nasty old PA and, of course, bongos. A bunch of kale hung suspended from the ceiling above the stage. I asked, "If I stand under here do I have to kiss a hippie?" It's okay. It's not like anyone could hear us. Luckily Sweet Annie was there to give us carrot ginger soup and take the edge off the Irony Deficiency these breeders were obviously suffering from. Virginia hauled our sorry asses back to Wolfe Island where we could rest up for the next day's voyage to NYC.

We packed up the next morning, evicting several spiders who had decided in the night that our luggage was a great place to raise a family. ("Did you pack this suitcase yourself, Ma'am?").

Wolfe Island is located between Ontario and New York State so we got to take the cutest three-car ferry to Cape Vincent and had the most casual border crossing to date. We used the old 'I'm-a-piano-teacher-he's-a-roofer' angle.

"The car? Oh yes. Borrowed from our old friend Derek! Yes. Rather sporting of him indeed!"

We didn't even have to resort to the usual Jedi mind control tactics. "These are not the terrorists you're looking for and we're totally not in a band."

The drive was amazing. It's like a two lane video game through The Catskills and The Palisades Parkway and then all of a sudden you're in Fuckin' New York City! To go from the starry skied ruralness of Wolfe Island to bustling Manhattan is a curious thing indeed. We are starting to feel like we're starring in a perpetual reality TV show. "Today on 'What the Fuck's Going On?' Carolyn and Tolan teleport between two countries both geographically and spiritually in under six hours. Hilarity ensues."

We pulled up outside The Living Room on Ludlow basically just in time to play. Luther and Jenny and the gang had, unbeknownst to me, bailed on the hippie benefit in favour of arriving a day early and showed up looking annoyingly acclimatized. I bolted with Jenny across the street for a wine and a smoke to take the edge off the drive so I could get into character and not be spewing pure poison into the microphone for our first ever New York Hootenanny.

It seems like every time I get out of that car I'm in some sort of rage.

Nice crowd for an early show. Chris Brown and Kate Fenner played with us and Melwood and Ford and our friends from Ireland, Prison Love, showed up and it was all over by 11pm so the next show could start. Turns out a little filly named Norah Jones was gonna play a few Bob Wills tunes with her country band. I wanted to tell her how much I liked her records but the six Grammies kind of made it seem redundant. I mean, EVERYBODY likes her records. It made me want to tell her that I couldn't stand them in hopes that she'd be so taken by my refreshing candour that we could just get on with the business of being friends. But I just stared.

After a lovely day off in Brooklyn, complete with backyard dinner with Chris Brown who is such a righteous dude. He's always helping someone. I bet there's a big old groove on the call-waiting button on his phone.

Our friend Frank came ove and took Tolan to ride the rolly coaster at Coney Island. I declined and spent a wonderful afternoon on the phone arguing with a promoter in Edmonton. The highlight was when he paused and said, "Do you know how much money I've lost putting on your shows over the years?!" which I had to admit kind of stung a little. My friend Geoff suggested I offer to give him a tax receipt like a charity. Good Times and glamour, my friend.

We left Friday morning and headed back to Wolfe Island to pick up our instruments and visit with Virginia and all our spider friends but overshot the ferry by a good forty miles. Virgie was working late so me and Tolan played guitars on the porch and actually learned up a couple of much needed New Songs accompanied by a chorus, led by Lenny the Dog, of cats, coyotes and grasshoppers and whatever else was out there. "How perfect to 'debut' in Montreal!" we thought. "Perhaps during the 'encore'?" Tres amusant, n'est pas?

Got up early the next day and swam nude in the mouth of the St. Lawrence in lieu of showering which ruled except I kept thinking someone was gonna see me and/or steal my clothes as a prank or something. Damn small town high school, makin' me so paranoid....

Tolan drove and I spent the next five hours dozing in the back seat. When we got to Montreal and I got out on St Laurent, I felt really weird. I felt like I was going to die which, until that moment, I had thought was just an expression. People say it all the time. "I thought I was going to die!" and I always nod knowingly so they won't suspect that I am an alien. But this time it's like I finally knew what all the humans were talking about. I felt kind of pukey and crampy and retarded. My tongue was thick and my hands were swollen and it felt like my head was filled with bees. I thought it was just the Ladies Pains 'cause that was going on too but wow, I almost thought of checking myself in which I never think to do because I know if I were to go to a doctor they'd have me put down.

My friend Alexis came and got me and we sought comfort in the restorative powers of vintage dress shopping at the street fair. I scored two five-dollar gowns and felt a little better. Then we went to the drugstore and got some Midol which I've never taken before and holy shit, turns out it's like pure speed which made me feel even weirder! I told Tolan I felt a serious bout of Tourette's coming on but you can't expect someone else to know what it means when you tell them you're feeling crazy. Believe me. I've been on both sides of this.

My friend The Vampire always tells me how crazy he is and I never believe him. I'm always like, "Well you can't be that crazy if you're able to tell me that you are." Someone really crazy would just be grunting or screaming like Harvey Keitel crouched in the corner howling with indignation at the Universal Horror which, come to think of it is how my friend The Vampire ends up most evenings. I think maybe I'm going to start believing him.

Mental illness aside, the show was really fun. The Main Hall has great sound and Tolan played great and everyone loved him. Li'l Andy opened the show with style and we played to a small yet appreciative 'crowd' before heading out into the night where, in the highest comedy of scheduling hilarity, we discovered Luther Wright was playing up the street. I leapt upon the unmanned piano to keep my hands busy but it was too loud to hear anything. The next morning, we attempted to stalk Leonard Cohen at Bagel Etc which we know to be one of his favourite haunts, eager to share with him our awesome idea of how he can get his finances back into the black: He could simply pull a Willie Nelson and do a Taco Time commercial! We even came up with the campaign slogan --"I've seen the future and it's delicious." Voila. That oughtta put booze on the table. But there was no sign of Lenny. Probably forced by his accountant cut down on the eating out no doubt.

I located Tolan and we blazed to Toronto. This time Tolan slept in the back seat while I drove. Apparently a gin drinking contest had broken out at our friend Larry's after the bar and Tolan was still feeling the effects of his apparent victory.

When we got to the back alley of The Horseshoe Tavern, Tolan got out looking really fucking bizarre. Not hangover green. Not blood pressure red. None of his usual colours, but kind of grey. Taupe maybe?

"I don't feel so good," he said.

"Kind of pukey and retarded?" I said, "That's how I felt YESTERDAY!"

We both looked at the back seat accusingly. "Maybe there's an exhaust leak," we both said. Oh my God. Carbon Monoxide poisoning. It made perfect sense as the whole trip flashed before my eyes. New York. Kingston. Montreal. And now Toronto. We felt the weirdest after all the longest drives. So I felt like I was going to die because I WAS GOING TO DIE! For some reason I felt vindicated that in no circle would I be considered a pussy based on my threshold for discomfort. When I told my friend Melissa about it she laughed and said she found it telling to note that the last thing we would think to blame our discomfort on would be an external force as a result of all the residual 'party guilt.' But then she rang off explaining that she was in the middle of an experiment where she was attempting to harness the electricity of human excitement and had just blown a fuse. For some reason I pictured nipple clamps, a car battery, and a coffee grinder and shuddered. Guess she's feeling better.

Toronto went well. We reunited with Our Garth on the drums and NQ Arbuckle opened and their new songs are awesome and they've got quite the ambitious new lighting guy at The Horseshoe now so it all felt rather epic.

At the sound check, someone noticed that we were down a bass player and Basil from Blue Rodeo was summoned and man, the dude is a soldier. Fearless. Throwing himself into the front lines of our chord changes like that. What was he thinking? Perhaps the man was on some sort of suicide mission. I don't know but hats off to Basil!

We played two big sets and I ended lying down and hanging my head off the end of the stage singing upside down during the Elvis explosion finale and it made me think of old times with The Vinaigrettes. Before I played guitar and just danced. Well, pointed mostly.

The promoter was AWOL so we got paid less than I was expecting which also made me think of old times. Well, most times actually.

ACTUALLY, most times are reminding me of other times these days. Like the fifth and last time I ever did acid. I noticed we were talking about the other times we'd done acid WHILE WE WERE ON ACID so it just seemed kind of redundant. Like talking about food while you're eating. Or talking about touring when you're on tour. Or talking about drinking while drinking. I like singing about drinking though. It feels more noble. I love all those 'bar room as prison' metaphor songs. Oh my god, now I'm writing about talking about singing about drinking while drinking. O The Layers! I'm wondering if it's too late now to change The Script? Shit, that could be scary. I know all my lines now.

People can get used to anything.

Worse, they can become nostalgic for anything. I have been wild for too long to start working for anyone else. I mostly get paid for being myself. And the self that used to pride itself on being so spontaneous, as accommodating as water, now feels as though it's starting to harden into just a bag of habits and one liners. It's all parlour tricks for catnip as my friend Ed used to say. What I'm doing is a lot of peoples' dream. The difference is that usually it's kept as a dream. And fantasies aren't generally that well thought out -- "I'll just kill the husband and then she'll love me forever!" or "Wait until I'm dead. Then they'll be sorry!" etc. The Fantasy of Playing Carnegie Hall doesn't factor in the twelve years of touring, or any of the lead up. It's just that moment.

In the fantasy version, it would of course be Saturday night and you would be headlining and you would have no memory of the twelve hour drive or the border crossing or all those hours you spent learning your instrument or thinking homicidal thoughts about your bandmates. In the fantasy, somehow you just miraculously know what to do and you would totally win over the sold out crowd who'd adore you and be familiar with your work and it would feel like your mother folding you into a warm towel after the bath. Most of my friends know which part to keep as the fantasy. These are the ants who will take in this grasshopper in The Fall when she realizes that there indeed was a later -- that The Future was real and not just a conspiracy to keep people in line. Well I'm hoping they will anyway.

Right now, I'm having a date with myself in this hotel room in Seattle. Yup. Using the soap dish as an ashtray. "But I thought you were at home?" you say incredulously. Yeah well, so did I. There's just this one show, see? Present relocation be damned, I feel like I want to finish the story.

The last day of the tour. Quiet on the set.

Take One. Rolling. Speed. Action:

After our show at The Horseshoe, our drummer Garth, to celebrate the proximity of his house to the bar, had a party. In the seven block drive we got to relive a condensed version of all our past tours. I was sober. Garth and Tolan and Ford were all crammed amidst the gear in the backseat drunkenly arguing about how to get there and I had to parallel park The New Yorker right in front of a benchful of screaming frat boyz who had stationed themselves in front of the house. "Are you guys Blue Rodeo?!" they screamed viciously when they laid their beady eyes on Ford's keyboard and silver temples.

Once we were safely inside with the drinks poured, we of course stayed up way too late post-morteming the show and figuring out the world. "You were great. No. You were great. Holy shit is it five?"

The next 'morning', Bernard our Eastern Enabler helped me return Derek's car. (Derek, if you're reading this, I didn't want to tell you about the exhaust leak lest you mark us as ingrates. Also, I thought it very unlikely that you would spend five hours in the back seat of 'The Cherry Bomb' with the thing in motion which is when you start to notice that you're feeling weird and without you we're nothing etc but Darling, I'm telling you now.)

We ended up down at The Harbourfront (full circle or what?) and chartered a water taxi to take us to our last show. The Toronto Island Jamboree which is an annual event held in a pagoda style hall. The weather was perfect and the men had purchased one of those balsa wood airplanes that you wind up with an elastic band and were immediately flanked by an army of children eager to do their every bidding in exchange for the chance of winding the propeller. A pug named George made sweet love to several paper plates and our set went well and the people danced and we initiated yet another bass player. This one, I believe, went by the name Mr. Tickle. I am starting to see the importance of these people.

Later we watched Brian Connelly's band The Atomic 7. They are an instrumental trio known for their extensive practising and artful segues. Bernard turned to me and wondered aloud if Brian ever thought about the words when he was playing. I think definitely not. With him it's all about melody and tone and in most music those damn words just get in the way of the Precious Guitar. Like I keep saying, a well chosen occupation masks the lurking fetishes so for a perfectionist in love with tone, an instrumental band is the perfect forum. He is the embodiment of class but not in the usual "Could you fuck off with the perfect for a second?" He is just so lovely that watching him makes you want to become a better person. That night I was struck by the revelation that a band is made up of people essentially all just rooting for their own teams. The drummer wants to hit the goddamn Drums but the singer's always making him wait while she sings the all important Lyrics and the bass player has a whole different agenda and so on.

And you're all supposed to work together? Hilarious. Someone brought up the part in that Standing in the Shadows of Motown movie where they ask the drummer about what it was like to record all the Motown hits and all he talks about is the drum fills -- "Badaba ba boom diddly boom -- Now that's an intro!" -- because that's his perspective. I bet if you asked any of my bandmates what happened on the last tour their answers would all be different. Like if you were to ask a monkey about his travels in the jungle he'd probably tell you all about the bananas and what a great time he had because there were so many bananas. But if you asked the anteater he might say with a sigh, "Oh it was okay I suppose. Not a lot of ants though..." And perhaps some of the animals never find their natural habitat and are constantly disappointed and just become sort of resigned. "Yup. I knew it. No ants again..." Maybe some mutate. " I guess these bananas aren't so bad." I'm thinking it'll be good for this monkey to stay home for a while. Turns out they ain't kidding when they say that you can die from exposure.

I just found a quote by a man named Leroy Robert 'Satchel' Paige (1906-1982): "Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain't restful."

You said a mouthful, Satch.

I'm gonna go see the penguin movie. After that, I guess I'll just wait for The Director, that big Cecil B. DeMille in the sky to hand me the new script. Even though I know better.

We are all our own directors.

Thank you New York. Don't forget to drink water and try to get some sleep.

­ Carolyn Mark


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