Monday May 21 – Depart Monday morning around 10 am. I wake Dixie up to say goodbye. She was up very late organizing retail boxes and her own luggage for me to take. Until a couple days ago she was planning to leave with me, but her brother-in-law passed away on Friday and everything changed. She’ll catch up with me in Detroit. So, I leave alone and drive out I-80. I pass a forest fire just starting to grow in the mountains right at the edge of the Nevada border, on the way down to Reno. The Westbound lane is blocked and a few rubberneck Winnebagos are slowing us down Eastbound as well. Next event occurs in Winnemucca NV, when I get stopped for speeding in a construction zone. I’m trying to drive carefully but getting a bit tired, and it’s true I’m going too fast. I find myself almost preverbal when the patrolman comes up to my passenger window. I’m nervous of course, because I’m not used to getting pulled over. I don’t have good excuses nor stories, I just apologize and try to seem unthreatening. He’s firm but trying to be nice. The cop writes me up for going 60 in a 55. I guess it’s a tax for driving long distance. About 10:30 pm I arrive in Salt Lake City and stay in a dumpy Motel 6, where I have to go back to the main desk to ask for towels, after waiting behind another guest asking for a remote to the TV in his room. Either the cleaning staff or the guests have kleptomania here, I suppose.
Tuesday May 22 – The weather is cold when I leave Salt Lake, and I encounter snow through the mountains in Utah and Wyoming. I wonder about the wisdom of my choice to take mostly shorts and t-shirts for the next six weeks. Luckily cars have heaters. When a cold front hits a warm front in the midwest, I get concerned about tornadoes (past history) so I listen to the radio throughout the drive. It seems like storms might gather in Nebraska (they do.) I take advantage of pleasant memories and stop after an 8 hour drive, in Sidney Nebraska at a very clean Motel 6. It’s more like a hotel than motel actually, with indoor hallways and wireless internet. I am watching the weather channel as I write this, to see severe thunder storms and tornadoes touching down in central southern Nebraska – one reason I decided to stop early today. I’ve had enough of big weather on tour. None, please, this time, please? The other reason I stop here is Dude’s Steakhouse, where I have fond memories eating as a kid when traveling cross country in the early seventies. Still great after decades. I rarely eat steak but I love to stop here, because Nebraska beef is more tender and flavorful than almost anything I have tasted elsewhere. I order an 8 oz. fillet mignon with the lightest sides they have (salad and veggies). Perfect flavor combinations with mushroom jous, maple flavored bacon wrap, and a candied apple slice flavored with cloves and pickled beet juice. Flavors blend on the plate to create a sweetness that reminds me of Chinese 5-spice. Perhaps there could be a bit of star anise involved? A perfect meal for a lonely stretch of the trip.
Wednesday May 23 – Before leaving Sidney, I call Jim and Elizabeth Lewin in Des Moine IA and let them know I’m passing through, hoping to say hello. Generous family that they are, they invite me to stay for the night. Along the drive I hit a bit of severe weather, with major storms on I-80 west of Des Moines. Numerous lightning ground and air strikes offer a fireworks show in late afternoon, with heavy rains as I approach town in early evening. We sit for a relaxed dinner of veggies and bean salad – just what I had been craving after a diet of road food. The Lewins have a warm and open household, with cat and dog, kids and their friends coming and going in a welcoming big old Victorian house with craftsman furniture and just the right amount of funk. The cat joins me on the sofa bed overnight.
Thursday May 24 – I decide to stay with the Lewins for another day, so I can spend less time in Detroit. Anyway, it’s bad weather for driving and I am hoping the cold front moves further past me on Friday. I get some email done, chat with Jim around the dining room table. We go do some errands. I send off money for the speeding ticket. We grill some chicken for dinner and hang out.
Friday May 25 – I encounter some more heavy rains on the drive to Detroit, but otherwise uneventful. Slow traffic on I-80 south of Chicago, as expected, and more slow traffic from an overturned truck accident near Ann Arbor. I get to the Marriot in Downtown Detroit around 9 PM, and immediately run into friends from Louisville – Ryan and Lou, who have helped Jason Clark with Logistics and PA system for my shows there. We have a light dinner at the hotel restaurant and I go to sleep early.
Saturday May 26 – I go to the DEMF festival site at Hart Plaza down the street, to watch Jeff Greinke perform his set. At the start, there are only a few people standing around, but the audience grows to about a hundred by the end. I have always liked what Jeff does, with a dynamic blend of avant-improv, crunchy loops and soft droney melodies. I think he plays a very good set. For the remainder of the day, I scope out my strategy for loading in gear on Sunday, hang out with Jeff Greinke and his wife Isabel behind the main stage to eat free food, before we wander off and take the tram to Greek Town for a pastry and coffee. Jason Clark (from Louisville) and his wife Kim later return with us to Greektown on foot for a light dinner at a great family restaurant – I think it’s called Cyprus, but I may be mistaking it for another one. After returning to the hotel room I invite Jeff, Isabel, and the Louisville friends up to my hotel room for conversation and a taste of my homemade wine. Relaxed before tomorrow’s early setup.
Sunday May 27 – Dixie arrives around 6:15 am from her overnight flight, which wakes me up. I try to sleep a bit more – not well – for another hour then get up to sneak out around 8 to go move equipment. I’m at the site on time, around 8:30 but spend another 20 minutes finding the people who had arranged to help me move gear to the stage. Despite Paxahau’s excellent organizational skills, the armor still has a few chinks in it. The volunteers aren’t always where they say they’ll be. We finally arrange for me to drive my car up to the tented stage, across the plaza designed by Isamu Noguchi, with the giant hoop fountain in the center. I drive slowly through an obstacle course of tents for the merchants and festival sponsors. Set-up goes smoothly, but sound check exposes some frustrations with murky low-mid frequencies and feedback in the flute mic. I think my efforts to be helpful by making technically specific requests causes the sound man to get a bit defensive. He bristles a bit at my efforts to get a more open sound, for example I suggest rotating the side-fill monitors around to act as in-fills for the audience, since I use headphones for monitors and try to keep stage volumes low. But the stress remains amicable, and the sound improves.
A decent audience begins to build by around 12:15, so it’s time to start. The rain also decides to kick into full force at this moment. The ironic advantage to this is that it may have brought people into the tent to stay dry, who otherwise would not have come to listen. I start my set with about 30 minutes of improvisation underneath a tropical deluge that brings the ambient noise floor up to a volume that many people would find too loud for normal music, with the addition of booming bass from sound checks at nearby stages. My only response for this is to forego most subtlety in my set and focus on louder more aggressive performance. By the end of almost two and a half hours, I think the strategy worked. I felt that I was able to go through an interesting range, mixing improvisation with composition and moving toward a more mellow sound without getting overly pretty. A flurry of interviews afterwards, then a teardown with deafening music around me leaves me rather exhausted. Luckily the rain has subsided. I get my van loaded and back over to the hotel by 4 PM, then Dixie and I return to the festival to relax and have a free dinner. We stick around to hear our friend Robert Henke perform (Monolake). He’s the creative force behind Ableton Live, the software that almost every techno DJ is using these days. He plays a sparse set of beats and synthesized sounds, all controlled real-time from his custom midi controller using his own software. He knows how to get hundreds of people moving, something I’m not very good at! I realize by comparison, once again, that this really isn’t my world. After Monolake, Juan Atkins comes on with his group Model 500. To my ear they sound rather unfocused, sloppy and abrasive. The crowd is pleasant to watch, especially the more athletic creatively dressed females dancing to the beats; but I’m tired of the noise. Dixie and I head back to the hotel.
Monday May 28 – We sleep late and move slowly into gear, eventually making our way over to the festival for lunch and some conversation with other musicians backstage. Then we wander over to Greek Town in the late afternoon for a coffee and sightseeing. The food at the festival is fresh and good – a sort of pan Asian blend, so we are eating plenty and don’t feel like eating out today, although the Greek restaurants are very tempting. We walk back to the festival and listen for a bit, nibble on some more Asian food then realize we are tired of the noise and growing crowds. We head to the hotel and end up going to bed around 10 pm, but the afternoon coffee keeps me from sleeping. So, now it’s about 1:30 am and I’m on my laptop, going through email, and of course writing this. Time to try sleeping again….
Tuesday May 29 – We check out of the hotel, and drive south to Louisville following Jason and Kim Clark in their silver Volvo wagon. Lunch with them at Subway, and then to the Ohio river across the bridges of Cincinnati into the green rolling hills of Kentucky. I have come to look forward to my visits in Louisville, a gracious town with old neighborhoods conducive to walking, a good university that plants the seeds of an informed population, and plenty of tasty restaurants. We arrive at Kim and Jason’s house, a century-old shotgun shack that grew over the decades with additions to the rear, a spacious kitchen, and high ceilings with lofts for guest rooms. We stay above Jason’s studio up a narrow spiral staircase in a loft at the front of the house, a mouse-hole window overlooking the quiet street. On the two-story wall connecting the loft to the studio, a friend of Jason’s has painted a dynamic mural of musicians trough the ages, using graphic references to Social Realism and WPA art, with statue-like figures and cubist folds. Jason is a skilled artist who now runs a company for web and graphic design. He’s one of several people I know who are active in the electronic music scene whose skills cross over between music, technology and graphic art, a generation of multi-skilled creatives who master the new tools to assist quick bridging between expressive modalities. His wife Kim is a vet technician with a background in psychology, finishing her graduate degree in public health. Couples like Jason and Kim and their friends give me optimism, as I travel around the country and meet all types of people. In this increasingly complex world, I see hope in their ability to break through the trend toward increasing specialization. In the right hands, comfortable with the shifting landscape of new technologies, an underground info-savvy generation is giving bloom to new kinds of empowerment and creativity.
We walk around the corner in the evening to a stylish new Vietnamese fusion restaurant called Basa, and enjoy a light healthy meal with some good wine, a light Reisling and an earthy Spanish Tempranillo. Walking home, I delight to see fireflies lighting up the bushes. Feeling very happy, we four sit on the back deck to watch fireflies and bats flittering in the night, sipping on my homemade ’04 Syrah – my best so far – and talking until 1 a.m., surprised at the passage of time. These moments make life worth living.
Wednesday May 30 – Jason and Kim leave in the morning for work. Dixie and I get some email done and I read a book, A Hedonist in the Cellar by Jay McInerney. In the evening we go out for Mexican food across the river in Indiana, then to a wonderful little pub with Belgian Ales. I have a Rochefort 8, one of my favorites, with fragrances of strawberry and peaches. Back to Louisville and asleep around midnight.
Thursday May 31 – Last night we decided that I would cook coq au vin today, in celebration of the opportunity to taste a sample of the original Pernot Fils absinthe that Jason had obtained. This came from a 72 bottle stash that had been stored in a distributor’s basement since 1910. Dixie and I drive down to Whole Foods for supplies – dark meat chicken on the bone, a cheap pinot noir, some potatoes, carrots, onion and such. I cook in the afternoon and Jason’s friends Lou and J.J. come to join us. A feast with good conversation ensues all evening, topped off with a comparison of the original Pernot alongside two of the modern attempts at copying this lost gem. The copies fall way short of the original, one (T.A. Breaux’s much touted Jade Liquors 1901) showing far too much black licorice with a sort of heavy-handed lack of focus, the other (Absinthe Duplais) coming closer but slightly too bitter. The Duplais takes on some very pleasant fresh qualities when more water is added, and opens up to resemble the original more closely. Amazingly, the original Pernot Fils tastes almost exactly as I had expected it to taste – balanced, herbal, not too much anise, not too bitter nor sweet, almost aetherial with a subtle grounding of leathery low frequencies from the dittany and sweet flag, licorice root and possibly angelica, higher floral notes from chamomile and melissa that linger on the roof of the mouth. Indeed, I feel both surprised and gratified that my own attempts at blending herbs for absinthe have aimed for almost exactly this balance. It has a refreshing, summertime fragrance which could do more to explain its purported addictive qualities than any hogwash about the wormwood content. What a treat.
Friday June 1 – Concert day. Lou shows up with the PA, which I help move into the house. I may have twinged my lower back a bit with a poorly leveraged lift, so I do some stretching before Jason comes home and we head over to the university to set up. This concert is in the same recital hall where I played in 2003, a well designed long room with step deep audience seating. I’m at the bottom on the floor with audience extending upwards, and Dixie sets up with CD sales at the top by the entrance. We get a good early start since I have to rig up lighting for the first time, and want a few extra minutes to work out a section of the first set against the new 66 minute edit of the film. It still doesn’t feel quite right, and I make some changes at the last minute. Also, I’m having trouble with the sampler. The volume seems to cut in and out. The show must go on, despite my feelings of discombobulation. Audience turnout is a bit lower than expected, but I love the Louisville crowd. They really seem to appreciate the music, and they listen very attentively. I remember at least half of this audience from other concerts, and they seem like old friends.
My first set feels very rough to me, in no small part due to the ASR10 cutting in and out between low and normal volume. I keep trying to reset the cables and wiggle the knobs during free moments, to no avail. Finally, after a very glitchy start to the second set, I power the sampler down and reboot, and re-insert the footswitch jack. Success, finally. The last 50 minutes of the second set go smoothly and I finally feel like I catch my groove. These sorts of uphill struggles during a concert tend to overshadow my memory of the event. It becomes very hard for me to imagine what it’s like to be on the appreciative end of my own artistic efforts. I sometimes seem only to see the mistakes, the flaws, the inadequacies. Luckily the Louisville audience is gracious and forgiving. I’ll return.
We finish the night tired, returning to Jason’s house around 2 am after tearing down and packing cars, nibble some leftover pizza from the pre-gig snack and collapse.
Saturday June 2 – Vacation day. Sleep late, do email, laundry, hang out. Kim made an appointment for me to get a massage with a friend of hers, since I seem to be on the edge of a back-stress episode. There’s a major thunder storm with heavy rains before the appointment. Jason and Kim make reservations at a very nice restaurant and wine bar for dinner. Their friend JJ joins us. L&N Wine Bar has a great menu with an excellent French-weighted wine list. We order a Garretson Roussanne from Paso Robles for the appetizers (cheese fondue and mussels), and one of my favorites, Gourt de Mautins Rasteau for dinner. Gourt is one of those amazing French stinkers that starts out smelling like barnyard and dirty socks then opens up to one of the most complex fruity profiles imaginable, with blueberry, rust, smoke, coffee/chocolate and more. I have an excellent seared duck breast, thin sliced over butternut squash with a raspberry bigarade. The five of us end up ordering an additional Sonoma Cutrer Pinot Noir, which has big ripe raspberry notes that pair well with everyone’s dish. I think the Pinot is a bit overripe, however, with slightly cooked overtones. We all share a dessert of chocolate fondue, heading home late and very satisfied. Yet another great dinner with great friends.
Sunday June 3 – Jason and Kim take us to the Lewis Museum of International History, which is advertising a dragon exhibit. We were hoping for some actual historical artifacts about the mythology and literature of dragons (Chinese culture for example.) Instead, the exhibit is designed for children and has a slightly silly fantasy element. Much better is the third floor exhibit of Medieval British history and military technology, suits of armor, all the way through colonialism, revolution, and the fall of empire. Back to the house, Dixie and I do some internet maintenance, then Jason cooks dinner. Later on, after talk turns to web design, he shows me a great service for sending newsletters, called CampaignManager.com, and we discuss future design consultation.
Monday June 4 – We drive to Nashville via Mammoth Caves. We take the Mammoth history tour, about two miles in two hours underground, well paved with electric lights and stairways, a voluble guide giving stories of past cave use. Prone to misanthropy that I am, I get a bit annoyed at the other 100+ tourists that accompany the tour. I have low tolerance for children and stupid people, but I know this has more to do with my own flaws than any that I imagine in the people around me. I just don’t like to be part of a crowd. This is only the second cave tour I have taken (the last was childhood, in Hannibal MO at the Mark Twain Caves.) I’m fascinated with the idea that the Mammoth Cave network now has been mapped to over 365 miles of tunnels. If researchers manage to connect two other nearby cave systems to it (some of which they know come within a thousand feet at this point) then the known system will extend over 500 miles. I envision a huge porous network under the entire state of Kentucky – an unlikely fantasy that appeals to me somehow.
Around 3 p.m. We hit the road again, south on I-65, only to encounter a 90 minute slowdown north of road construction near the Tennessee border. After parking long enough for people to get out of their cars and stretch, we accelerate to a numbing 5 mph for over an hour. Finally back to speed, we arrive at Bob and Ellen Olhsson’s house in Nashville around 6 p.m. Bob is an old friend from the Hearts of Space era, who mastered the majority of my HOS CDs, who welcomed me working alongside him to participate and learn in the process. He had been part of the engineering team at Motown during the ’60s, and remains an indispensable contributor to quality music still. He’s finishing the mastering for a 3-CD set called “Song of America” that should get a big push in the coming months from Sony, but it has a tight deadline. He needs to concentrate on the final quality checks today and tomorrow.
Bob, Ellen, Dixie and I go for a casual kabob dinner at a nearby Persian restaurant, then we go see their friends the Time Jumpers play their regular Monday gig at the Station inn. Tonight it’s packed to the rafters, because country star Vince Gill is sitting in on guitar. This is a band of some of the best old Nashville cats around, and some of Bob’s old Motown friends, playing together doing country swing and old standards. The level of musicianship is so high that I don’t even care what their playing. The steel guitar player, John Hughy, is unbelievable with his fast moving jazz chords and slippery melodic work. Vince Gill is surprisingly good with his rockabilly influenced clean solos, with these top-notch musician friends pulling him up to the top of his skills. He’s loving the challenge, and so is the audience. I’m leaning against the back wall throughout the gig, and we’re all getting hot and stuffy, so we sneak out a bit early and head home. A deep sleep awaits.
Tuesday June 5 – Hanging out with Bob and Ellen, talking music biz and tech, listening to the music he has been mastering. Ed Pettersen, producer of Song of America, drops by to rant a bit about the snags with Sony Music, contracts and cover art. Dixie and I go for a short walk, watch a thunderstorm roll in. Sitting with Bob in the living room, we await the storm brewing outside. The exciting part of the storm misses Nashville. I was looking forward to some good thunder and lightning. Chicken salad for dinner. I play my piano album “Open Window” for Bob after dinner, which he likes. Nevertheless, I can’t help but ruminate a bit on the differences between a musician like me, who relies on technology so heavily to create a sort of hermetic music, virtually incapable of writing for an audience or playing a cover song; compared to musicians like those we saw last night, virtuosic players whose vocabulary embraces a cross-section of some of those most beloved and accessible music of the last century. Sometimes I feel like a charlatan by comparison, like a surgeon who never went to med school, an illiterate novelist, a marathon runner who hops on the bus to reach the finish line. I remind myself of the analogy I use sometimes: that electronic music resembles sculpture, where the performance occurs slowly with the incremental result of small decisions; while the sort of musicianship I’m comparing myself to resembles dance, where the body itself becomes a sculpture in motion, and the decisions flow from one to the other in the present moment. A recording is frozen in time, and invites a different sort of analysis than the moment in time created by performance. Some of us are simply better sculptors than dancers.
Wednesday June 6 – Lunch with film maker Eddie Bailey at a Thai restaurant to discuss his plan to make a documentary about ambient music and those of us involved in it. We talk about the source of my inspiration, as Eddie wants to get a sense of background story. The Thai food is very good at this restaurant, and it arrived very spicy as we requested. Conversation is stimulating (OK, well, I’m talking about my own interests in the conversation, so of course I’m interested.) Back at Bob and Ellen’s, we lounge about, briefly nap, do some computer work, go shopping down the street for veggies and cook some corn/peas with salmon. Hanging around after dinner, watching John Stewart and Stephen Colbert on TV. Tomorrow we’ll drive to Memphis.
Thursday June 7 – Lunch with Bob and Ellen at Goldie’s deli, which they consider the best Jewish deli in Nashville. It’s a bit of an off-day for Goldie’s though, and Ellen sends back her stuffed cabbage because the rice inside is uncooked. I just have a salad. Then, we drive west to Memphis. We arrive at Allan Bogle and his wife Anya’s house 15 miles east of Memphis around 6 p.m., we sit around and talk a while, get settled in, and Anya cooks a spaghetti dinner.
Friday June 8 – Sightseeing day starts with a salad for lunch at the Tea Room, a little victorian house converted into a crafts gift shop and lunch spot in Oakland TN. The weather threatens to be interesting, with dark purple skies, but only rains and thunders a bit. We drive into Memphis to look at the hall where I’ll perform tomorrow, a large lecture room in the Psychology department at the University of Memphis. The room has about 300 seats arrayed above a wide low stage, a movie screen and a projection room, but the lighting could prove difficult to control. We’ll have to work on appearances tomorrow.
After a few other errands, we go downtown for some sightseeing and dinner at the famed BBQ spot, the Rendevous. My chef friend Andrew Trice had instructed me to eat here last year, when tornadoes shut down the town and cancelled all plans. The restaurant is in a basement on an alley a few blocks from Beale Street downtown, and you can smell it from it’s plume of smoke all the way around the block. We meet Richard Roberts there, an ambient musician with an inversion of my name, who has opened for me here in Memphis under his moniker Zero Ohms. Our waiter is rather brusque, to say the least. He shows overt annoyance at simple things like asking what types of beer they have. The food is great though. I order ribs, cooked with a dry rub with flavors that resemble a cross of Cuban and African, with paprika, cayenne, coriander, clove, perhaps celery seed and other subtle layers of flavors. The ribs are a tiny bit dry, but fall off the bone. There’s a small puddle of spiced vinegar underneath. The sauce comes in a bottle, one hot, one not, with delicate sweet/sour balance. I also get to taste Dixie’s pulled pork, which is moist, not at all fatty. I also taste Allan’s beef brisket, which is the smokiest of the three, and perhaps my favorite. The dishes all come with baked beans that start off sweet but slowly build up to a significant spicy burn. The Rendevous is a benchmark of American barbecue, which helps me calibrate my opinions about all the other excellent barbecue joints I’ve tasted. Excellent as it is, I must say that it’s not the Holy Grail, and I feel that our own choices closer to home stack up quite well to the big daddy of Memphis.
After dinner we walk down to a refurbished Beale Street, which is bustling with people and preparing for the start of a 5 km foot race. I last saw Beale Street about 10 years ago, and it looked dank and abandoned, derelict old bars and tacky souvenir shops. Now it’s the vibrant and cheerfully disreputable place that it has aspired to be. After a brief sit in a trendy air-conditioned bar, we take the trolly in a loop around downtown to see the renovation that is sweeping through downtown Memphis. I’m encouraged to see this venerable old city rediscover its culture and pride.
Saturday June 9 – Gig day. We meet for brunch at Brother Juniper’s, a breakfast spot near the University of Memphis campus that serves enormous omelettes. I polish off an excellent eggy creation with spinach, feta and slices of gyros meat, and feel like I’m set for the day. Around 2 p.m. we go set up at the Psychology auditorium, nice and early. Set-up goes smoothly, with plenty of time to solve the lighting problems that plagued me in Louisville, where it got so datk on stage occasionally that I couldn’t see the guitar. The audience is slightly smaller than we wished for – about 65 people, but enthusiastic and excellent listeners. Both sets go smoothly, and I think I managed to find a good pace for the first set which accompanies the Atlas Dei visuals, so for the first time it didn’t feel rushed or cluttered. It usually takes a few concerts for me to remember the groove that makes my music work, with a more patient flow than would seem natural through the rush of adrenalin that accompanies live performance. When I slow down a bit and stretch out the transitions, each sound becomes more salient and more interesting. I think some of the better moments in my music occur in the transitions, between the cracks. After the show we tear down, load out, and head back to Allen and Anya’s. We stay up until about 3 a.m. polishing off some leftover spaghetti and a Corky’s pulled pork sandwich saved from a pre-show snack.
Sunday June 10 – The cat wakes us up several times in the early morning, nudging me with his head for attention, making it hard to get deep sleep for the long drive ahead. He finally settles in and naps a bit with us until about 8 or 9 a.m., when we get up, linger with Allan and Anya, then finally head out for the two day drive to New York. After 10 hours of uneventful driving we perch at a Motel 6 in Columbus OH, centered between the freeway and a busy railroad track with freight trains carrying coal throughout the night. I’m tired and sleep well regardless of the noise and the mattress that smells of stale cigarette smoke (despite this being a non-smoking room.)
Monday June 11 – Aiming northeast across Ohio to I-80 through Pennsylvania. We hit standstill traffic near the New Jersey border, so we decide to improvise and head north on a tiny highway (209) that takes us along the Delaware River basin to interstate 84, into New York state via a more northerly route. It’s a beautiful route. At my sister’s house, we learn that a big accident had halted traffic on the New Jersey turnpike, so our detour proved smart. Salad for dinner and sleep around midnight.
Tuesday June 12 – I take my car down to the nearby service station for a mid-journey lube job, and walk back to my sister’s house. I feel like I need the exercise. Laundry day, catching up on email, some shopping, dinner with family.
Wednesday June 13 – Heading into Ridgefield with my sister and Dixie to get some chocolates as gifts. We pick up the car from its lube job, then drive to John Diliberto’s house in Lancaster county Pennsylvania. John hosts Echoes, a syndicated radio show that has been very supportive of my music for years. Dinner with John and Kim at home. Planning rehearsal with Ian Boddy, who just flew in from England and is staying in Upper Darby with Chuck van Zyl.
Thursday June 14 – Ian calls about 10 am and we head into Philadelphia to set up in the rear of an architect’s studio called AxD to rehearse. A new problem appears: my DX7 has died. All my presents are gone, the patch select buttons don’t work, and random Japanese characters fill the screen. That’ll have to wait until later, when I have time to figure out what pieces I can perform without it, or re-work the older pieces that need it. Ian and I quickly go through the elements that we have prepared. Most of the material started with MOTM rhythm performances that I sent him a few months ago, which he then chopped up to create loop-based performances in Ableton Live. By late afternoon we have a rough set list and we try going through it once before dinner. It’s rough, to be sure. We’ll have work to do tomorrow. Chuck Van Zyl (host of the Star’s End radio show and organizer of our gig here) takes us to a pub/restaurant called North Third where I have a salad and some hummus. It’s deafeningly loud inside, and very hard to have a conversation. This seems like a common feature of Philadelphia restaurants. We then go over to another more posh restaurant called Osteria to meet Jeff Towne at the bar. Jeff is the engineer for the Echoes radio show, and a raving foodie like me. Osteria is a great new restaurant in Philadelphia with an Italian theme. The excellent enthusiastic sommelier named Karina hangs out and chats with us through Jeff’s light dinner of a thin crust egg and sausage pizza and spinach salad (topped with sweetbreads and escargot). She comps us some tastes of various Italian wines that she thinks pair well with the food Jeff is eating. We all share a cheese plate with an assortment of well-chosen cheeses and savory jams, paired with two vintages (’98 and ’01) of the same Monbazillac, an enchanting simultaneous food pairing and vertical tasting. Jeff drives us back to our car and gives us a jump because my battery is dead – Dixie had the door open for a few hours in the afternoon while she was doing inventory. We get back to John’s house very late – almost 2 am. We’ll be tired tomorrow.
Friday June 15 – Ian and I rehearse for most of the day. During the first half, we examine each section and try to learn our parts. We run through a tolerable attempt at a full pass by late afternoon, then again quickly just to review. Now we have to tear down our gear and tidy up the back room at the architect’s office, then load everything into Chuck’s car and my van. Once again we have plans to meet Jeff Towne for dinner, this time at a new Italian restaurant called Modo Mio in North Philly. Chef Peter McAndrews has created a restaurant that manages to hover in the rare and attractive gap between affordable and stylish, casual and elegant. I love this place. If we lived here, Modo Mio would become our regular restaurant. Four course prix fix dinners cost only $30, with antipasti, primi and secondi courses, with dessert. A generous BYOB policy for wine and beer makes this even more friendly. We all share our dishes with each other, so we can taste everything. Portions are small, so we don’t get stuffed. The menu is so attractive that we could have thrown darts at it to pick our courses randomly. I seem to be a magnet for the only glitches in our dinner – after tempting me with a frog leg appetizer, I learn that they just ran out. I order sweetbreads for the secondo, and instead receive the veal cheeks, which initiates a running joke with the waitress about the phrase “sweet cheeks” which now seems stuck in her head. The art of flirtation is alive and well in Philadelphia. We all share the veal cheeks and the other secondi while I wait another 15 minutes for the sweetbreads, which are exquisitely prepared with slivers of fennel root, lemon time and lemon zest in a honey-tinged reduction. The combined flavors resemble a Pernod reduction, complex and aromatic while remaining light with a lingering sweet citrus note. Yum. Desserts are aetherial. The raspberry zabaglioni virtually floats off the table into our mouths. We chat with the chef-owner until late, and when we leave the city we hit dreadful construction traffic that delays us once again for a 2 am arrival back at the Diliberto house.
Saturday June 16 – Gig day over at the Iron Gate Theater on the U. Penn campus. We need to set up early, because the first artists of the day start at 3 pm, and I need at least three hours to load in, wire up and tune. The hour-long morning drive back into town turns nasty again at the turnpike exit, so we take a leap of faith and exit onto a road that John had recommended as an alternate route. Unfortunately, our directions for this route assume that we’re leaving the city rather than entering it. The attempt to reverse the directions mentally while making split-second driving decisions brings Dixie and me to an adrenalin charged snark, which doesn’t improve as the route takes us through borderline Philly slums. Somehow, Dixie manages to find us on the map and helps me get into town, by now rather frazzled. Set-up goes smoothly and my temper slowly subsides as the gear gets organized. The whole Gatherings volunteer crew is there to help, and a family vibe pulls everyone together. Terry Furber and Scott Watkins’ duo Orbital Decay starts the day with retro Teutonic synth-scapes, alternating between smooth spacey drone improvs and rather traditional sequencer grooves. Likewise, Chuck Van Zyl and Art Cohen’s duo Ministry of Inside Things mines the ’70s space-sequencer mode. I work on my sound check during dinner break, along with Ian Boddy and Jeff Pearce. Jeff starts the evening with his mellow guitar loop compositions, chatting as he does to the audience between songs. Most of us in this circle of musicians tend not to talk much during our sets, relying on musical segues instead. I think the conversational tone of Jeff’s gigs works in his case, to add a personal touch to his very soft music. It honestly reflects his personality. I think my set goes very well, with the only mistakes that bothered me happening during a stretch where I had previously been using the DX7. With that synth dead, I replace the section with a lap steel guitar part, but I goof a few of the notes in the mode. Close enough for jazz, they say. The set with Ian feels a bit rougher than my solo set, but time seems to fly past so quickly I hardly remember what it sounded like. At times, I think we managed to build a very good intensity, but at other times I think we both felt like we were treading water in the deep end. Hopefully the recording will prove useable. After a long chat with fans at the merch table, I rush through a late teardown. Thankfully we encounter no traffic on the long drive back, and we get to sleep around 2 am after late-night vegan snacks which substitute for dinner.
Sunday June 17 – Father’s Day at the Diliberto house, with waffles for breakfast. In the afternoon I do some email and write these words as Dixie goes through merchandise inventory and unwraps CDs for Ian to take back to England to sell. Jeff Towne comes to get me for our workshop back in West Philly, as Dixie makes plans to get together with her friend Carol, who lives in Princeton, about an hour away. About 20 people arrive at St. Mary’s church on campus, and Ian and I relax into a rather open conversation about music gear, the collaborative process, playing electronic music live and more. Ian brings his laptop to show samples of the rhythm loops in Ableton Live, and I bring my lap steel guitar and flutes to show how simple the tools can be for making music. The chat session ends around 9 pm and we join Jeff Towne, Chuck Van Zyl, Dwight Ashly, Dave Maier (past XPN DJ), Dixie and Carol for a late night pub dinner at the Standard Tap, which serves local brews and light food. I have a duck salad and some good local beer and Jeff drives me back to Eagle, settling in around 1 am. Carol drops Dixie off an hour later. I wait up for them, slightly concerned, slightly annoyed, very tired. They had gotten lost coming back from town.
Monday June 18 – Ian and I play a Living Room Concert for the Echoes radio show. I go to the studio around noon to set up gear. Ian and Chuck arrive around 2 pm. We decide which of the pieces from Saturday night’s show would work best for the radio, and we take some extra time to work out the details for playing the pieces separately rather than with segues as we played them live. We decide to name one of the pieces AxD, after the architect’s studio who let us rehearse for two days while they worked. The performances feel good, and I notice once again that my parts often sound better when I’m playing less densely, feeling more relaxed in a studio environment, without the rush of a live audience setting. By the time we break down and pack the cars, the afternoon wears on into dinner time, and we all head over to the Dilibertos’ house for pizza and animated conversation about music. Asleep before midnight, at last.
Tuesday June 19 – Calm morning, afternoon interview about Atlas Dei back over at the Echoes studio. I try to explain the qualities that differentiate this DVD from other recent videos featuring music with motion graphics. Atlas Dei feels to me far more evolved in its artistic complexity and vision. I think Dan Colvin’s visual vocabulary unifies the release into something greater than just computer graphic eye candy. Also, the piece moves through 90 minutes of complex changes without discontinuities, which has its own technical challenges. I’m very proud of this work. Dixie and I return to John’s house via a short detour to a nearby park, where we sit by a lake for a short time; but the heat and humidity send us back indoors. We take a short nap and wait for Jeff Towne to pick us up for dinner. Jeff has convinced Dixie and me to join him and a group of ten foodie friends for a rather extravagant dinner with a private chef. We hesitated for a month after his original invitation, in part because of the expense, in part because I’m getting fat with all this good eating. This chef has asked to remain anonymous, because his private dinners have garnered high attention among bloggers and he doesn’t want people to pressure him for work when he’s not ready. Keeping to that promise, I won’t say who he is, but he goes by Ronin Chef for these events – a chef without a master. The guests bring some excellent wines, and the five course tasting menu includes scallop carpaccio with carrot sorbet and lime foam, corned beef “steak tartar” with celery velouté, cavatelli with rock shrimp and fennel cream, caramelized Berkshire pork belly with wild asparagus and cipollini beans, and dessert of mocha panna cotta. Although the price for this delicate faire was quite high, the fine human companionship and the excellent wines augmented it to form a memorable experience.
Wednesday June 20 – We prepare for departure back to my sister’s house in NY in the morning. I do some email as I wait for Dixie, and off we go. Traffic on the NJ Turnpike is forgiving and swift, but New Jersey drivers remain a breed unto themselves. Upon arriving at my sister’s house, I discover that my laptop has died; so these blog notes are scribbled down on paper from here on. (This also explains the long delay in posting my remaining journal entries onto MySpace.) When everyone gets home, we go out to dinner at a Belgian-French restaurant in Ridgefield CT, with a great selection of abby ales and somewhat mid-tempo bistro food. I order mussels in Pernot sauce, which come in a huge portion, absolutely delicious.
Thursday June 21 – We get some errands done with my sister in the morning, and we eat lunch at a deli-grocery nearby. I am stressing out a bit about the art opening this evening in NYC. I realize that I never feel comfortable at these sorts of events. It’s easier for me to perform in front of 1000 people than to remain casually charming in the midst of a dozen strangers at a cocktail party. My sister drops us off at the train station and we head south to Grand Central, navigate the subway system (rather poorly) and finish with a walk to the gallery in Chelsea. The day is warm and muggy, threatening a good thunderstorm. We arrive at the gallery 20 minutes before the opening, and I listen to the sound of my music for the first time in place with Michael Somoroff’s visuals. (This is the video installation for which I created the CD “Illumination”) The videos are beautiful, but I am not at all happy with the way my music sounds in the room, which has a huge low-mid frequency build up inside the warehouse-sized space. Volume levels are also way out of balance, and the largest installation sounds like it’s in mono, coming from one speaker. I try not to be a diva about it, but I do run around for a while behind the scenes to fix what I can before people arrive. I am able at least to turn some volumes down so the bass doesn’t load the room so heavily, and I accept what we have to work with. I would have liked to specify the sound system a bit more thoroughly, and have a day or two to make sure it sounded good in the room. Oh well – I’m a perfectionist.
One thing about the New York art scene sticks with us as we hang around at the opening. Everyone just talks about themselves. I feel rather anonymous, spending most of opening as a wallflower except for the occasional conversation, during which the rare recognition occurs: “Were you involved with this? (yes – I did the music) Oh, YOU’RE the composer! – I’ve heard so much about you.” Which then usually continues in the form of “I’ve known Michael for a long time. We go way back. I worked on such-and such for him for the last year or so. Don’t you think it’s great?” When Dixie went outside to get some air, it was starting to rain. Someone talking with her points up at the sign for the event above the gallery door and says, “I think that’s the best part of the exhibit.” To which she replies, “Let me guess, you did that, right?” Yup. After the opening, we trot through the heavy rain with garbage bags over our heads to a restaurant a few blocks away where the after-party has started. We’re drinking soda water in cocktail glasses because the beer and wine list isn’t very good. Out on the rooftop lanai we chat briefly with a distinguished looking man in a sports coat gazing out into the foggy evening. Across from our rooftop to the west rises the new IAC building designed by Frank Gehry, glowing yellow in the humid air. The man tells us. “It’s rare to see such a site, the Gehry building reflected in fog like this. I think it’s the most beautiful building on the Manhattan skyline.” We ask him what he does for a living. “I’m an architect. I worked with Frank on the design team for that building.” I’m thinking… of course it’s the most beautiful building. “I did that”. It’s all about *me* in this carnivorous art scene, isn’t it. I remain polite, interested. I can’t handle it. 20 minutes later we get a ride back to Grand Central, take the train up to Katona where my sister has graciously parked her car for us to drive back home, late and tired.
Friday June June 22 – We drive to Bethlehem PA for NEARfest. We encounter some ugly traffic in New Jersey again, this time probably an accident combined with yet more construction, it’s hard to tell. We arrive in the afternoon, settle into our hotel and walk uphill about a half mile to the theater at Lehigh University. Everything looks really nice. The crew here suggests I should be able to load my gear in today, to make life easier later on and to help calm my security concerns parking the van full of electronics at the hotel. I walk back downhill and shuttle the van up for unloading. I’m enjoying the exercise after all this long driving. Another walk uphill after re-parking, and I join Dixie who has been setting up the merchandise table in a room set aside for artists to sell their stuff. Dixie and I walk downhill again to look for a restaurant for dinner, and settle on an Irish pub-style place where we each order salads and Guinness. The salads are huge and fresh – we’ll return. Back at the venue, we chat with some of the listeners who have come for tonight’s jazz-fusion pre-show with Allan Holdsworth and Danish group Secret Oyster. I don’t follow the progressive rock scene very closely, but certain artists like Allan Holdsworth hold my immense respect. I love the clean heady set he performs this night in his trio with Chad Wackerman on drums and Jimmy Johnson on bass. Wackerman has got to be one of the most musical drummers I have ever seen play live. I’m impressed.
Saturday June 23 – Day one of NEARfest, and Dixie and I hang out at the venue all day to see some of the music and sell CDs in the musician’s merch room during the breaks between bands. It’s a good strategy. We talk to a number of fans who drop by, and meet many people who have never heard my music and express interest in hearing me perform tomorrow. This crowd likes to buy t-shirts. Those and the Atlas Dei DVD are selling very well. The music today ranges widely in style. A French band called Nebelnest has a fresh heavy sound that borders on skronk-metal at times. I like it. Hawkwind headlines the evening, and I’ve enjoyed their music for years. Tonight they’re not at their best, however, with a new keyboardist who plays mostly sampled piano, and the festival’s front-of-house mix engineer seemingly clueless about how to mix space-rock. I can barely hear Dave Brock’s guitar, which should form the chugging center of the band, and the inappropriate piano melodies stab out from the mix and straight through my head like railroad spikes. Earplugs barely help. Here is one case where a bad mix destroys a performance. I’m still a fan, but tonight is a sad contrast to the last time I saw Hawkwind (over ten years ago.) After the show, I go backstage to set up my gear on the riser assigned to me for my gig tomorrow, then Dixie and I head down to the hotel, where a radio show is broadcasting from the lounge at cacophonous volumes. I can’t handle the noise, and we retreat to an early sleep to prepare for a long day tomorrow.
Sunday June 24 – Gig day, and I awake at 7 am with mind churning. To the venue by 9 where I wire up my rig and start sound check in headphones. I know I won’t have time for a real sound check before my performance. From the side of the stage, I watch the band Indukti start the day at 11 am. This is a very heavy sounding guitar based quartet from Poland. They’re amazing, probably my favorite during the two day festival, with odd time signatures and Tool-like intensity. It’s quieter backstage than front of house, so I’m content to remain by my gear. Back to sound check in headphones during the break, then pause to watch the next band perform, a PFM-ish symphonic rock group from Italy called Maschera di Cera. The band is comprised of some very nice guys and we’ve made a friendly acquaintance during the weekend. Keyboards hold their sound together, with bass, drums and flute – no guitar. Refreshing. In the hallway I see John Diliberto (from Echoes, whose house we stayed in last week) and he mentions that he was chatting with Roger Dean (the illustrator best known for Yes album covers.) He had recommended to Roger to go see my set, knowing that Roger rarely listened to the music during the festival. Roger designs the logos each year for NEARfest, and shows up each year to sell lithographs of his work, which he is happy to sign. He’s a gracious, eloquent, gray haired Englishman whose psychedelic landscapes helped define a generation of music. I must admit I was a fan in the heyday, with continued respect, and I’m honored that he might be listening.
With no real break for me to set up, I rush back to check on Dixie to make sure she has what she needs for merch after the set, then run back to see that the crew has already rolled my riser over to stage right and getting ready for me to start. I run up to the lighting board for a quick adjustment of the stage lighting. I like it dark and saturated so people can see the film during my set. I make a quick level check as a substitute for proper setup (the deaf sound man panics a bit when I give a massive low frequency test boom – maybe that’ll make him turn it down!) As I begin my starting sound of the set, I suspect the that the video guy hasn’t heard the cue to start the visuals, so I signal to him from the stage. He starts the video, and timing is good if a few seconds late. I only wish the projection was as large as they told me it would be. I gave them a very high resolution file with the expectation that they could spread it 30 feet across the back screen, but it’s more like 18 feet, which looks small in this huge theater. Regardless, I feel the set goes extremely well, way better than expected, and I feel like I nail the ending almost perfectly. The audience give me a standing ovation! That’s a very pleasant surprise.
Upstairs they have a room set up for artist signatures after each set, and I have a shorter line than many of the other groups here. I would want to say that such comparisons didn’t matter to me, but of course I have an ego too. It’s only human. I’m consoled by the intensity of the connection that some of the listeners feel for what I do, and by the fact that many of the other fans already had a chance to hang out with Dixie and me during the remainder of the festival, so they already bought their merch and had me scribble on it. After about 40 minutes of signing and chatting, I return backstage to start tearing down my gear while the British band Pure Reason Revolution plays their set. Their sound feels a bit jumbled to me from the stage monitor bleed, so I can’t really form a good opinion of them. I haul my gear back into the staging area – an unused theater where the keyboard techs are swapping rigs out for the other bands. Then, Dixie and I go upstairs for a dinner break, before returning to the merch room to sell more stuff during the audience dinner break. I get a ride downhill to pick up my van, load in my gear, then park the van so I can see the last half of Magma’s set, the headliners for this night. Dixie and I hover in the wings with some of the show organizers including Mike Ostrich, whose kind efforts brought me here. Magma percolates through a 40 minute wall of fast, difficult, intense and indescribably odd operatic jazz-rock maximalism, the second of two long pieces in a 90 minute 2-song set. We sneak out during the encore, with tired brains after a long day. Back at the hotel, the crew hangs out for an annual late-night after-party, with plentiful beer and an acoustic guitar strumalong singing songs by Marillion (I don’t know any of this music). Tired, we nevertheless don’t get to sleep until about 4 am. I appreciate this palpable family vibe
Monday June 25 – Dixie and I drive to Princeton, NJ after saying goodbye to everyone from the festival. Dave Brock from Hawkwind is waiting in the lobby trying to figure out how they’re going to get to Brooklyn for a gig that he’s not even sure he’ll get paid for. He mentions something about tough guys running the club who didn’t pay Magma for an earlier show, unsure if Hawkwind would get paid for tonight’s gig, mentioning perhaps some mob connections that make it hard for a lowly musician to fight for what’s been agreed upon. I feel a deep sympathy for this psychic warrior, who still slogs away at a personal vision after decades of hardship – some, self-inflicted perhaps, some the result of naive business sense, idealism, or the intrinsic unfairness that seems rife in the music business. I feel lucky to have kept my own head above water, and a bit sad about the state of things. We also chat briefly with Roger Dean, who liked my set. We exchange numbers, and hope to meet again on our travels. On our way out to visit Dixie’s friend Carol in Princeton, we pass a big accident on westbound 78 that causes a 10 mile backup, luckily in the opposite direction from ours. Carol gives us a tour of Princeton, and I never imagined this campus existed before the American Revolution. It feels like England, a pristine Medieval monastery, something out of a museum. We return to Carol’s house and have a salad dinner, chatting with Carol’s French housemate, who is here to do research for a PhD in economics. We open our last bottle of my homemade wine to share with our new French friend, always happy to show off the unique qualities of California homebrew.
Tuesday June 26 – We head out from Princeton around 10:30 after a breakfast of fruit and bagels. I miss a turnoff near Trenton NJ and make a convoluted detour before finally reaching the Pennsylvania turnpike. After that, we have a smooth long drive totaling 15 hours that ends at a Motel 6 in Rockford IL just north of Chicago. The surreal highlight of this drive certainly comes in the form of fireflies flashing along the roadside in northern Indiana. As twilight darkens, the little bugs smash against my windshield and offer one last glow in suicidal defiance, as their green luminescence fades in a puddle of squish. I’ve never quite shared the same wistful sadness and enchanted delight as with this spectacle of glowing bug splat.
Wednesday June 27 – We awake in this dingy noisy Motel 6, outside of Chicago. We drive all day through beautiful Wisconsin parklands, to arrive around 5 PM at our hosts Mike and Kitty Croswell’s house in St. Paul MN. We immediately make friends with their charming calico cat, which reminds us of ours that have both passed away. We get a tour of St. Paul, then eat dinner at a great Afghan restaurant called Khyber Pass. I have a tasty dish of grilled lamb cubes on lentil purée. The owner Emel also happens to be a DJ on local station KFAI, with a show tonight called “International Jazz Conspiracy.” He invites me on for an interview. Two hours later, Mike and I arrive at the station and Emel plays pieces from Seven Veils, Open Window, and Atlas Dei. He hadn’t heard my music before, and likes it. After we’re done, he features tracks from Tortoise, who will play at the same venue the day after me. Great band. I feel honored to be welcomed in such good company. I like the Twin Cities even more.
Thursday June 28 – Gig day. Calm morning. Set up at the Cedar Cultural Center around 1 pm, with plenty of time to figure out how I’ll play a second set without my DX7, which died in Philadelphia. I work out the pieces that don’t require those sounds. Turnout is a bit low, around 30-40 people, but several of them have come from great distance – Texas and Tennessee in particular. I feel a great responsibility to give a good show with this sort of attentive audience. There is a backstage here, but I don’t feel a need to hide. I would rather remain to chat with folks a bit, and help Dixie with questions at the CD-merch table. Both sets go smoothly, although I lose my emboucher a bit on some of the flutes for no good reason. It’s a quiet night, low stress and with good feelings all around. Thai food after the gig from next door, bed around 1 am. Very sane.
Friday June 29 – Awake around 9 am, Mike takes us to breakfast at Maria’s Mexican restaurant, to try the sweet corn pancakes. I share Dixie’s pancake and have some excellent scrambled eggs. We leave around 12:30 to Des Moines IA to stay with the Lewins again, as I did on the way out east. Family dinner with most of the kids, a relaxed no-stress environment. Their fold-out craftsman style sofa is one of the most comfortable beds I have ever slept in.
Saturday June 30 – Awake at the Lewins, we share French toast breakfast and depart around 11:30. We drive from Des Moines IA to Sidney NE, about 8 hours. We check into Motel 6, the cleanest one I have ever seen, and Dixie and I eat at Dudes Steakhouse like I did on the way out. This time I try the roast beef, which is huge and delicious. Dixie has the Fillet Mignon. I like this dinky little town for these two features: a clean cheap motel and a great restaurant. I used to dread the long featureless drive through the midwest, but each time I pass through this expanse I come to appreciate a bit more of the fine detail that makes it beautiful. In Nebraska, I-80 passes through the Platte River Valley, and offers views of the trees that line this sinuous creek of a river that snakes all the way from the Rockies to the Missouri. In eastern Nebraska one sees glimpses of the sand hills, an ancient geological structure full of fossils, ossified dunes from an ancient ocean shore. I ponder how western North America used to be submerged under a primordial ocean, one bleak remainder of which survives as the Great Salt Lake, since isolated by the upward thrust of the Rockies and Sierra Nevada. These wide expanses bring us closer to a memory of deep time.
Sunday July 1 – Driving from Sidney NE through the Wyoming high country and down across Utah into Nevada. I’m smelling something I didn’t like from the van as we cross the mountains. At first I think it’s the transmission heating up with high speed at high altitude. When we stop in Wendover NV for the night, I’m not so sure it’s the transmission. We eat dinner at the Peppermill casino down the street, a horrendous nightmare of blue neon and mirrors. We have trouble finding the interior restaurant in a corner of the vast hall filled with flashing lights and bleeping machines. I simply don’t understand the attraction to gambling. Casinos give me a headache; but there are precious few places to eat in Wendover that don’t at least have slot machines. A mediocre taco salad and back to the hotel to sleep for another long drive ahead, stressing out a bit about the car.
Monday July 2 – Drive, still smelling what I now suspect is burning oil. The car has an oil leak. We stop to fix it in Winemucca NV, the same desolate hole where I got my speeding ticket coming east. We find an oil change shop which luckily has a very observant owner who does all the pit work. He finds the problem. It turns out that the oil filter got a pinhole puncture when the mechanic near my sister’s house in NY installed it poorly a few weeks ago. It’s a miracle the oil didn’t start emptying out sooner, so I didn’t wreck the engine driving it dry. We finish the long drive home. Happy arrival with the car still working, around 9 PM. It’s good to be home.
My summary feelings from this tour contain a mix of joy and excitement from meeting hundreds of people who feel meaning with this odd personal music I make; contrasted with feelings of getting older, feeling increasingly irrelevant to the pop culture juggernaut that drags the money of commercial affection along in its wake. The irony, of course, is that I felt resentment towards pop culture since before the start of my professional music career. I don’t feel that resentment now, just irrelevance. At my start, I gravitated towards art-music, towards those who expressed their unfiltered personal truths regardless of musical marketability. Now I am that sort of artist, but seeing it from the inside – mature – realizing that I do what I need to do to survive by selling my ideas, while trying to maintain my integrity in an increasingly irrelevant world. I’m getting old enough to realize that I’ll never understand the complexities of my world. Yet I cherish this strange mess, and I still feel my original urge to find meaning in the morass. Perhaps this makes sense only to me, or as one amongst thousands of modern Quixotes fighting against the windmills of randomized info-culture. The more I learn, the less I understand. . . but at least I begin to remember what matters most to me in the realm of happiness and meaning.
Upon returning home, Dixie and I chose not to reconnect the satellite television that we had been watching for the last year or so. Before the satellite, we had only an antenna feed for a few channels; and now we have no TV at all. I appreciate the blissful calm every evening. I landed home with a half dozen mastering projects and a live album with Ian Boddy to edit and mix, so I have plenty of activity to break the calm. If this year is anything like past years, I won’t have time to pause for very long to reflect upon the meaning of touring, once back home and relishing my domesticity. Life moves too fast for such reflexive luxuries. But isn’t reflection one of the sacred purveys of the artist? I’m thinking as I write this, that I need to set aside more time for reflection. It helps me make sense of this strange short life we share.
Thank you for helping me think these thoughts. – RR