Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A Lady's Got to Finish the Song: That California Trip

I think there's something about the Fall that makes everyone start heaving deep existential sighs.
I guess it makes sense. Colder nights, dying leaves, back to school, all fodder for anxiety.
I spent the day in a bookstore in Portland reading Arthur Schopenhauer, a 1930's philosopher credited for being the first one to admit that the world was bad! I only knew about him from Woody Allen jokes but check it out:
"Hope is the confusion of the desire for a thing with its probability."
Brother I know that tune.
Okay so it turns out the dude hates women but I just pretend I am a dude when I read stuff like that. Like when you read Bukowski or something. "Yeah, chicks ARE stoopid!"
Dude, I read so much when I was younger I thought I WAS a dude until I was 23, so it's not hard for me.
And, well, Lemmy from Motorhead's biography was also quite inspirational:
"Looking back...it was good that we fell when we did. We wouldn't have been going now if we had carried on getting more and more famous. We would have wound up a bunch of twats with houses in the country divorced from each other."
Heady stuff, eh?

This trip was like a vision quest or something. I was accompanied by My Chauffette: lady genius, artist, scientist, adventuress recovering from ribs broken by a tumble within The Art World. The Chauffette and I are each other's parallel universe. Since we are involved in similar fields we know the shorthand of certain words (festival, curator, lab partner, record label, etc) yet since we're not in EXACTLY the same field, we're not secretly measuring our own success each time the other speaks and can actually HEAR each other when we talk. Most intoxicating. Pure love. No poison.
So we did a lot of driving and a lot of talking. We have both noticed in our respective fields that weak people seem to get more help. Well, more help than us. Like people think we're tough and can take care of everything. Or maybe everyone thinks that about themselves and you just can't see your own help.
We thought about cultivating an "Outer Diva" so people would help us. But, since nothing is free, I think the cost of allowing people to help you would be having to be crazy. And even if you just started out APPEARING to need help, you'd probably get so used to it that if it was removed then you'd really be fucked. It's like a little love letter of protection to yourself in the future.
Insert more Schopenhauer here:
"If the frustration of effort were removed from the lives of men, their arrogance would rise...to manifestations of the most unbridled folly and even madness."
Or in modern parlance, that's why you cry when the festival's over and you gotta find your own way home.
Of course, we talked about love a whole lot too. We decided that we are lady pirates contributing to the Grey Economy of Love.

The first show was in Sacramento which is a weird place. It's like there's no people there. I've been three times and it's always the same. Actually I think what's really afoot is that it's a capitol city and the club we always play at is in the business area. I'm sure there's a whole other part where hipsters are drinking coffee and buying records and all that but I've never found it. We just don't know anyone there. That's all.
The Chauffette and I found a Travel Lodge mere blocks away from the club and checked in. Some sketchy dudes were sitting in the lobby barefoot and we heard one of them say "Jewish people are nice" as we walked past.
We met up with the other bands: Bermuda Triangle Service, Victoria Williams, and local sensations Two Sheds. All the bands were lady fronted and the night ended up being a buffet of mental illness.
The girl in the opening band sat in a chair, slid off her eighties pumps, and strummed a beat on an old electric. Sounded fine but she did this weird thing with her lips and teeth that I guess was her version of smiling.
Bermuda Triangle Service was next and Cynthia (aka "Wig") who had done all the work getting these shows together seemed a touch tense while she sang. Perhaps on account of the low turnout, thinking that we'd think it was her fault or something. She is a sweetheart and so is her husband/drummer Adam ("Ad") and their bass-man Bob is a dude and a half too.
Next up I think it was me. Holy moly. Somehow I ripped open my dress, broke a string, cut open my finger and started bleeding before I even sang a note! "Sell-out!" some genius yelled from the darkness. It was like Tourrette's of the hands! I started over and all went well I guess. The place was highly air-conditioned which never fails to put me and my guitar in a mood.
Then Victoria Williams and her band sauntered in from dinner. The lady herself clad in many layers and a white crocheted tam. A black JAZZ drummer carrying sticks, head bandana, t-shirt with drum logo, etc. You know, that Guy. The guy who's always wearing things that scream "drummer" so people won't notice that he's not. . . Then there was Janis from the Muppet Show on bass and a tall JAZZ guitarist who came complete with Implied Sweater. By the time they hit the stage it was midnight and the show was a little chaotic. I chalked it up to first-night-of-the-tour-working-out-the-act-here-in-the-Catskills and factored in the late hour and the bone chilling air conditioning and thought I'd wait until the next night before forming an opinion but fuck man, a lady's got to finish a song. Finish the Song. That's the only rule.
The Chauffette and I tried to encourage our Host Family to join us at the Travel Lodge instead of driving the hour and a half back to S.F. We almost had 'em but they had promised the JAZZ Guitarist a ride and felt obligated. The next morning we tried to find breakfast and ended up eating at this weird sandwich place for working people. We were surrounded by a whole lot of ladies in sneakers and cinnamon hose on the Atkins diet. All these cute Filipino ladies were working away behind the counter. We wanted to load them all up in the back seat of the car and take them with us to San Francisco where they could be free.

Hot sun and traffic all the way to S.F. in our Golden Volvo Wagon. We were looking forward to staying with Wig and Ad because they are lovely hosts and their place has this beautiful patio with orange and lemon trees that grow right through it. That night's show was at a place called The 12 Galaxies which was mere blocks away from The Crash Pad.
San Francisco moment: two hobos in the doorway, one says to the other: "You oughtta take some POTASSIUM" Even the hobos are all about health here!
The club is really big and has two levels and the owner is really nice. Got me wine, let me smoke, funny, knew about music. It doesn't take much to win me over, why is it so rare?
Bermuda Triangle Service took the stage and opened with this crazy sound scape instrumental number. Wig's parents were in the front row and they were digging it.
The Chauffette met up with her old friend The Archivist and they were head to head at the bar.
So there I was in my vintage black cocktail dress and ribboned shoes and fake beauty mark looking down over the balcony at the stage when this guy came up and said "Excuse me, my friend and I were wondering if you're a suicide girl?"
As a phrase, how delicious is that? I really wish I could have said yes and jumped off the balcony. It would have been worth it to me to die for the sake of the joke. Instead I figured they were referring to those burlesque ladies who tour around, or have a website, or something so I said, "No but I know some of those ladies" or something boring like that.
I went running downstairs to find Tommy Monday and told him I'd just been asked if I was a Suicide Girl! He's like "What does that mean?"
Forgetting he's a fag, I'm like, "You know those burlesque girls..."
"Oh, you mean those fat chicks with dyed black hair who go around trying to convince men that they're sexy?"
Yowch. Tender. Tender.
Victoria Williams had decided that she wanted the middle spot, so she hit the stage in a pair of giant overalls and again with the white woollen tam. She seemed more together than the night before, but still didn't make it all the way to the end of some songs. There is some genius in her but without editing it's really hard to watch.
Touring with Victoria Williams sounds enviable on paper, but she was flighty, mental, and left the stage feeling like a very dark place indeed. She separated recently from her boyfriend/handler and perhaps it's that. Perhaps it's that she once was SIGNED TO ATLANTIC RECORDS and has just had her expectations distorted ("unbridled folly and madness").
Since I have enjoyed limited "success", I have been spared from the burden of expectation. Oh sure, I've experienced the come-down after a festival where they've taken really good care of you and then suddenly stop. It's more like snake venom when it's intermittent like that. But if you've been fortunate enough to enjoy years of constant special attention, maybe a guy could get so used to it that he'd forget how to live in the wild. My friend got a job catering on a film set and told me the story about how one of the actors, a fading soap star, announced one day that he was gonna get wardrobe to fashion him some sort of "eating smock" because he was always spilling his food on his costume. "Hey, bud, have you heard? They're now making these things called napkins!"
You can turn into veal when everything's taken care of.
Or maybe it's just pure mental illness. I know "Vic" has M.S. too, but does that affect your brain? I don't know where the distortion ends and the decay begins. It's sort of negatively fascinating but draining.
I had to go on after her and I wanted one of our west-coast witchy friends to come and smudge the stage with some sage or sweetgrass or something in case that shit's catching.

The next night in Berkeley, she didn't even make it through one song. Halfway through she sighed, "What a day. What a show. What a life.." as she slumped in front of the uncooperative keyboard, after a series of guitar malfunctions, which was kind of chilling.
When she was done she said "Well I guess that's that. You can all go home to bed now," which was really neighbourly of her, considering I was up next.
Catty-Tommy, trying to atone for the previous night, whispered, "You think M.S. is bad, wait'll you feel what C.M feels like!" in an attempt to cheer me up.
While The Chauffette's friend was showing us her new Mercedes ("Well it's not NEW, it's twenty years old!"), an old black man wheeling a shopping cart of books stopped and said:
"A Lover is one who can remain chill in the fires of hell while a Knower is one who can remain dry in the sea." Everyone's well read in Berkeley!
After the show, we drove home listening to the classic rock station. Once there, we sat on the lemon deck and discussed the show and performance in general. There are so many ways to do it. Wig offered up her theory, that there are Performers and Personalities, while she made us Lemon Drops with freshly squeezed lemons from the patio and chilled glasses with sugared rims, which took the edge off. I'm sure the vitamin C saved our lives. The theory's pretty good too.

The payoff was that the weekend culminated with getting to see Dolly Parton play for free in Golden Gate Park!! Wow, talk about your polar opposite experience, the woman is a machine. When she sang Jolene the main speakers cut out and we were treated to the image of her still singing away, moving her arms up and down, and dancing without sound, which I'll never forget. While caring fags held back the branches so I could better look at Dolly's spangles, she said:
"Look how well every one's getting along. I guess the world can get along. Well, if everyone smokes enough dope that is! Blow some of that up here, would ya?"
Does she know her audience or what?
After Dolly, as the sun went down and the fog rolled in over the bay, our ever extending family ended up in a Safeway arguing about Value Pack Salmon. I hid in the bathroom until it was over because, without the scaffolding of a mission, group outings are semi-uncomfortable.
Feeling like we may have completely flattened our Host Family's cushion of hospitality, we drove all night down the I-5 back to The Chauffette's warehouse in Portland. We rehashed the weekend and decided that somewhere between the flighty self-obsessed basketcasery of Victoria Williams and the robotic professionalism of Dolly Parton is where the most compelling performance lives.
I think it has something to do with perspective. If you are on stage and can't see past the walls of your own head and remember that other people are there, it can be negatively fascinating like reality television or something. But the audience will eventually feel abandoned once they realize that the person they have paid to see is not in charge. And unless you are playing to thousands of people, arena sized gestures and stadium shout-outs will seem completely unnatural.
Actually that shit's always funny.
"Hello San Francisco!!"

I try to play to the people who are actually there which seems to work most of the time.

My closer friends might argue this point but they're not here right now.