Tears Behind Velvet: Hello New York! (Part I)
We made it to Toronto last night. I asked Rigby and Tolan to make sure I got to bed at a decent hour but can see now in the clear light of morning that they may have been the last people on earth I should have asked to perform handler duties...
It made me really miss my friend Shawna who turned out to be a great handler last weekend at the Edmonton Folk Fest offering such thoughtful and timely suggestions as "Aren't you going to be wanting your guitar?" every time we left good old room 815 at The Airport Ramada.
I got midnight drunk and tried to get Martha Wainwright to hula hoop with me side stage during Mavis Staples but she declined. I distinctly remember her unclasping her wrist from my fingers. The next morning there were reports of Our Martha missing the morning workshop due to "guitar technicalities." Hmm. Strange.
I emceed on the Friday night and was told by Steve Earle's people that the man required no introduction. I said I knew all about that from NOT introducing him last year in Calgary. So after the 70 year old French Canadian fiddler finished I went backstage to get my purse and a hula hoop or something and Steve's road manager leans down from the stage and shouts "There's no work for you here!" and points to the tent exit. I felt like a matchgirlwhoreclown. (I was in the red polka dot dress). I swear I could feel a big red nose appearing on face and my shoes lengthening as I moped out of the tent and spent the rest of the night in a mood trying to think of all the scathing comebacks I could have laid on his yankee ass: "I was getting my purse asshole!" or "Well I could show you a little contract here that would prove that there is indeed Work For Me Here, Mister!"
Ooh. I was so mad. Does he think that I was born with a burning desire to introduce people anyway? Or that after my juggling act I'd try to stuff My Demo down Steve's modern Levi's while begging to be taken on tour. Jesus darling, I'd rather be singing, and if I was like that, I'd go to The Source and stalk Prine. He seems like way more fun.
I guess the part that struck a nerve was realizing that I am just another clown wanting to be taken seriously.
Well, to continue on the petulant asshole front, Ryan Adams took the stage wearing the hugest sunglasses and hiding behind his moppy hair. He played about twenty minutes of distortion with his band (chick bass player) and after some cryptic banter about morphine and orange peels, he announced "This one's about fucking a whore!" to the Saturday-evening-sunset-families-on-tarps crowd and their little faces just fell. It was funny for like a second because he was probably thinking "I'm in fucking Canada. Who cares?" whilst everyone there was adjusting their monacles and thinking "This is the Edmonton Folk Festival! Show some respect lad!"
A funny person could have gotten away with it but I don't think Ryan Adams is a funny person. He was so mean it just made everyone there feel terrible and I thought of all the people I knew back home who were dying to see him and all the good times we've had listening to his records. You shouldn't be so careless with peoples' love. I could almost hear Leeroy Stagger's heart breaking when I told him the story.
Apparently at his Vancouver show after a ten minute diatribe about the non-smoking laws he laid into the lady bass player for like ten minutes until she got on the mike and said "Apparently I'm going to go fuck myself right now." Could he be working some kind of American Performance art angle? Entertain in order to destruct? I think not. Why would you go out of your way to make the people who came to see you feel so uncomfortable? Maybe the man just hates himself. But which came first?
John Prine and Alejandro Escovedo were there representing the overbite contingent. Alejandro looked like a sexy praying mantis and was wearing rust suede pants and an infant. Hilarious side note: I saw him in the beer tent and suddenly remembered playing like three benefits for the man's ailing liver and thought he was wearing some sort of organ compress or hot water bottle until I laid my theory on Mark Davis of Old Reliable who looked over and said "Um.... That's a baby." Silly me.
Shawna and I mostly hung out with The Weakerthan boys and Tom from Old Reliable -- all the sweet spindly poets. It's like you wanna offer to carry their books.
My friend Luann has taken up jogging, smoking and tanning to replace The Drinking while Suzanne has blossomed into full blown meth whore looking just like one of those twitchy Vancouver ladies. She took me into the bathroom and lifted up her tiny dress to reveal biker shorts underneath saying "I've got my (slap!) ASS COVERED!" She speaks only in metaphors and paranoia now. Her best line came out when she was telling me that crack dealers had poisoned three of her cats. I was wary because crack dealers don't seem to be that motivated, unless of course they're trying to find more crack, and Cuckoo the Siamese was like a hundred when I first met Suzanne. Apparently the replacement kitty was named Friday by her daughter and so the moment Suzanne turned to me and said "I spent thousands of dollars keeping Friday alive!" shall be forever etched in my mind.
I bet you did honey. I bet you did.
It feels like my mission is to keep the car between those two ditches -- between Suzanne and Luann -- constantly monitoring the gauge to make sure the needle isn't pinned to the red on either side. Mavis Staples was all fucked up on old age and has no high end left and kind of sounds like Bill Cosby, but she looks fantastic. Plus what else is she gonna do? Everyone factors in their own mortality when reviewing her. "I thought it was pretty good," they say nervously, hoping that people will cut them this much slack when they get old and still want to rock.
While Mavis unveiled her her new song "God is Not Sleeping!" a huge fork of lightening lit up the night sky which was pretty impressive proving there's life in the old girl yet.
Unlike the Dawson City or Calgary festivals, they didn't keep me very busy -- one workshop and one night of emceeing. ("There's no work for you here!") And it's a huge festival. It's the Big One. Like ten thousand people and sixty acts. They basically paid me to party which I guess to some would be living the dream but us farm girls know that drinks taste so much better after chores so I went into to town and played Saturday afternoon at the Black Dog with John Guliak and Phil from Vermont on guitar who totally rules and had a blast and played for three hours to twelve people drinking pilsner thinking "Yesss, back to normal."
So now I'm here in T- dot trying to be good. The men are 'round the pub talking about gear and slurring. I just had a beverage called The Liver Flush from some yuppie purveyor of greens health chain outlet and oh boy. Maybe it was too sudden. Sweating, gut ache. burping ginger. Shouldn't have messed with the formula this late in the game. It's all about the maintenance now.
Ah, I'm sure it'll wear off by morning.
Twangfest was pretty nice except they used the old 'legs in the air' photo for the poster and Photoshopped in a jaunty blue line drawn cowboy hat. Yeesh. And it was everywhere. Like I mean on buses and billboards and television! A Sex in the City moment but without the sex. And, you know, country.
Damn. And I was hoping for an Indian Summer. (First Nations summer now is it?) I'm in the kitchen bright and early still on Ontario time I guess cuddled up to a cup of coffee and shivering in my Indian sweater (Indigenous sweater? Who knows?) All I know is that if I'm still three hours ahead maybe it would be technically okay to allow myself a cigarette this disgustingly early.... Just this once I swear. I'll hold off for a bit to savour the exquisite torture of desire denied.... Ah, who am I kidding? Hello, lighter. Hello, Benson. Good Morning, Hedges. Oh I could never stay mad at you guys. Take my first born (Please!) and my last breath. Do what you will with me you devils but mess with the face and the deal's off, got it? This morning's address apparently is to serve a two-fold purpose. Randy, my editor, who moonlights as the head of Mint Records has asked me to pen a little something for a 'zine' he intends to distribute 'round New York during the prestigious CMJ festival this fall. I shan't be attending this year as it is an honour I dream not of. Well, that and since us musician types are so famous for our ambition and foresight, I shall at that time be releasing my duets album at a hall in Vancouver.
Actually I was just in New York City. We wormed our way into the core of the Big Apple once again. Our first New York Hootenanny. Went well. Dozens rejoiced. Norah Jones was there. Picked and grinned until the wee hours in Chris Brown's backyard in Brooklyn. Luther Wright's latest girlfriend brought a selection of cheeses, bless her. And the next day when the others had left, Tolan and I got to record back-up vocals on some guy's record in bed! A microphone was brought to us and we oohed and aahed into its awaiting diaphragm adrift on a sea of cushions and cat hair. Now that's glamour, my friend!
This tour started on August 11 when Tolan and I flew to Toronto and met up with Agent Rigby at the airport. Our mission? To play at an event called T.O. Twangfest which was held down at the Harbourfront Centre. Us and all our "rootsy" friends -- Luther Wright, NQ Arbuckle, Luke Doucet, The Sadies, The Brothers Cosmoline, The Rizdales, Atomic 7, Nathan etc. got to strut our stuff in more glamourous settings than we are usually accustomed. A fine idea.
Everyone rose to the challenge and sounded fantastic. Boy when you can really hear the words it makes all the difference. Suddenly everyone feels included so the battle is half won before the war even starts. Unlike the other bands, our invitation came with the caveat that I would emcee for four days because I guess someone told The Man that I was good at it. Who are these people? I mean, I guess I'm good at it but only when there are no rules and they just want me for me but by day three, having to thank the Government of Canada and the State of Texas (this year's door prize sponsor -- "First prize is a trip to Texas. Second prize? Two trips to Texas!" threatened to slip off my tongue with every glance at the clipboard) became a task far more odious than waitressing. But I wore a wig and danced to all our friends' bands in the sunshine by the water and our friend Dan who sings with The Brothers Cosmoline and writes The Best Lyrics Ever took us all out for fancy pants dinner on the Canadian Songwriters Association tab at this restaurant where all the food was tiny and vertical and the men were drinking white wine.
To my horror my last two tour-mates (We'll call them Luther and Neville) were seated dangerously close to each other. I've toured with both of them a lot this year but SEPARATELY and so within moments they started, within earshot, to dissect my mysterious ways and alarming snippets wafted on the wind to my bionic ear ("Do you find that she is like this?") as they sipped away at the pinot grigio while I pretended to talk to Dan about his work. This was a most alarming tableau to behold especially when I was unable to even seek the usual comfort of voluntary oblivion in the gleaming carafe of free(!) Smoking Loon that loomed before me as my motor skills were still required later that evening to introduce the bafflingly legendary Billy Joe Shaver and announce the raffle winners. What fresh modern hell is this? I am too often the executor of my own perfect torment.
Oh dear. Forgive me, New York. I fear I have become the deranged swaggard at the cocktail party holding you hostage with my rambling tales famous for their huge casts and scant plots. I suggest you simply change the names to those of people you do know like when you're reading a Russian play and think of it all like a giant metaphor. Or is it AS a giant metaphor. Oh dear, now that's a simile isn't it? Shit, where were we? Ah yes. Toronto. Twangfest.
I emceed for like a week straight and now I can't stop introducing people. Got a tongue lashing from The Organizer for skipping some sponsors on the list because I got too excited about The Sadies starting to make it through the whole damn list.
Unfortunately the tongue lashing occurred just as I was about to take the stage for my concert with my sweet and rehearsed men who were vamping in a professional R and B fashion so there were a few tears behind the velvet. (Alternate Biography title perhaps -- Tears Behind the Velvet: Tales of a Boozy Chanteuse? It's that or Tomatoes on the Side: The Carolyn Mark Story.)
Ah, whatever. Subsequent interaction with The Organizer revealed that it was his first year running the show. Turns out he was really sick and feverish too. Go another layer down and the dude is a former teamster so is all about how 'people should WORK when you're paying them.' Good luck with them artists, bud. Though he was quick to pull out the Art School Card when I commented on this fact, I know that he is an alien even if he doesn't.
We did get to stay at The Sheraton on the Lakeshore for three nights -- albeit right beside the Fetal Alcohol Family.
By the end of the third day we had totally overdosed on the country music so me and Rigby and Tolan had a hotelivision night instead of going to the wrap-up jam at The Cameron despite the lure of an unmanned piano. My kidneys offered me an ultimatum too, along the lines of "Go there and we're leaving!" and for once I was listening.
Rigby left this afternoon so it's down to me and Ford and Tolan.
Spent a couple of days on the wagon strolling around Toronto and charming My Biographer Derek into lending us his Chrysler New Yorker for two weeks. "But Darling, if we have no car, this part of the story will just be a write-off, don't you see?"
We had just passed the mandatory emissions test and affixed the insurance sticker when Derek, who still had control of the wheel, said, "So my ex-girlfriend got married and had a baby four months after she broke up with me." I said, "I just found out my mother's been having dizzy spells and hiding it from everybody." Just then we got pulled over by the cops for running a red. Good thing we had the sticker. We played in London at a beautiful theatre called The Aeolian Hall. So pretty. Red velvet curtains, a Steinway for Ford. They said I could play it if I promised to not, and I quote, play it WITH MY ASS like last time and the last show of this spring's Hootenanny Tour came flooding back to me in a Proustian rush. The sound man did an amazing job on the vocals.
Dan Walsh from Fred Eaglesmith's band who is the former president of the Ontario Truckers Union joined us on the dobro and made us sound like real musicians.
Day four of no drinks and it feels okay. I'm saving up for the full moon in Wakefield where we get to stay upstairs and nobody has to drive. On Thursdays I goes wild! We got back to Toronto just in time to miss Dallas Good of the Sadies who was DJing at Mitzie's Sister but we hung out with him on the back patio for a while and he told me that he was born without a sternum and let me feel his unprotected heart.
Next stop: Peterborough. Opening for The Silver Hearts at a cute place called The Cinema which was one. After nearly packing it in, The 'Hearts are back in stride and had just recorded an album with Deadly Snakes' singer Andre Etier. A genius idea. Since they are a twelve piece band they need to be led by a leader who's not one of them to get them all facing in the same direction without anyone feeling compromised. We stayed up late on Kelly's porch and they excitedly played us all their new songs. I'm so glad they didn't break up as they are magic together. Washboard Hank's young red-headed daughter kept trying to get Tolan to take her to the rock quarry and came back with bleeding legs claiming that he had pushed her down a cliff. Tolan looked at me and mouthed the word "Help!" from behind his guitar. But then she passed out in the armchair.