Friday, November 20, 2009


Spare a kind thought for my beloved Sequoia tonight, who is driving south through a snow storm to help his dad. It’s, what, the third or fourth time he’s been down there in the last three months. His dad Ken is in a vulnerable place as he transitions into the last stage of his life. He’s in a steep decline but can’t see it, can’t accept the reality of his own disintegration. Sequoia has shown remarkable patience, kindness and support to his father. No surprise there, that's the kind of man he is.

Our parents become our children and we become the grown ups, making the hard decisions, setting the boundaries, paying the bills. Well, that’s what happens if we’re lucky; I wasn’t granted the privilege of caring for my mom, and dad didn’t last long after she was gone. He didn’t recover from her death. Like Ken, he descended rapidly into confusion and paranoia, but he always had one heartbreaking focus that kept him chained to reality: he knew my mom was gone.

Ken doesn’t have a focus. He has forgotten Sequoia’s mother, is quickly forgetting his second wife who died last year. He seems – unmoored. Lost in the present. It’s heartbreaking, but it is what it is and must be faced. We can’t leave him adrift and alone. His life must change.

So my beloved Sequoia is going down with love, compassion and determination in his heart to help his father. His father may not see it that way. If I ever find myself in Ken's position, if God grants me that many years, may I have the wisdom and courage to trust my daughters in the way I wish Ken would trust Sequoia.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Where were you when you first heard Django?

I was at Bob Hartman's house back in dear old Pleasanton, that sea of suburban sameness and conformity. I was the new girl and I didn't conform. I was too loud, too big, too opinionated, I had moved too often, already had a closet full of skeletons. Why Bob took pity on me is a mystery, but he did, allowing the new girl to moon around in the afternoon while he and his friends hung out.

I was at Bob's one afternoon when Paul Mehling came by, the best looking boy in school. We were in choir together Paul and I, but he didn't really know who I was. I knew who he was, of course. Beautiful man, beautiful voice, incredible guitarist; half the girls in school were in love with him. I've always been a sucker for a musician. Anyway, there was beautiful Paul talking his usual beautiful bullshit (which I ate up with a spoon) and then he put the Hot Club of France on the stereo. And for a few minutes I forgot about Paul, Bob, all the boys and all the girls trying to attract their attention. I forgot to be self conscious, I forgot to run my mouth. I just listened.

Ah Django; every note told a story. Even as a teenager I could hear that the music came from his soul. The deep, melancholy, almost world-weary flavors balanced with passion, avidity, joy. Every note leapt off the recording, ran up my spine and raised the hair on the back of my arms. It was strong meat for a teenage girl.

So many miles on so many roads, only to find myself back here again, listening to Django.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Baby Dill

Pickles, the beautiful Lusetta, and their sweet baby Toby. I'm mad for this boy.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Old Man

I finally listened to the recording of the Hamfist Harvest show at Stillwater. I've been afraid to hear it because we had so many technical issues that night. There are some moments that are really, really sweet and some moments that make me sad. The constant feedback seemed to get worse, not better as we progressed. You can hear it throw us off for a second and then we pull it back together until the next squeal. It makes me a little crazy because you can hear the potential of what we were creating that night. I missed some notes, I was a little flat in places, but in other places, we sound quite beautiful. Even though Jon and Jimmy were sick, it was coming together except for the freaking sound system. I can't complain about that shit because I can't do anything about it; I don't have the skills. But I know enough to know when it's bad. Nothing makes me tense up faster than a high pitched electrical scream when I'm performing. It's hard enough up there.

Here's what I'm learning onstage: I can't let my failures discourage me, I can't let imperfection deter me. When a recording reveals that I missed notes and my voice was flat during passages, I feel this remarkable sense of embarassment, shame even. Shame is not a useful emotion, it doesn't move me forward.

So I pick myself up and put myself out there, seeking opportunities, working on technique, improving my skills, getting better. There are physical limits at this age; I'll never see the D above high C again, but that's OK. There are some beautiful notes that are still within my range.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"lots and lots and lots of pleasant melodies and chimey guitars"

Zach Carter is a blogger for The Media Consortium and guitarist for the Charlottesville Va. band Drunk Tigers. The following is his response to a speech made by John Taylor of Duran Duran. Taylor asserts that the instant availability of music online has not improved the quality of contemporary bands; instead, it leads potential patrons to seek out the old, comfortable music with which they are already familiar. Carter takes a different view:

"As a musician myself, I think about this stuff a lot, and I think Taylor is onto something -- sort of -- but has fingered the wrong technological issue. If I have his argument right, it goes something like this: The Internet makes it easier to get music, which makes us live in the cultural past, since we can get our hands on lots of old music very easily.

"I just don't see how that's the issue. Recorded music has been easy to access for decades. Riding your bike to the record store was fun, but let's face it -- it really wasn't that hard. And once you were there, you could have listened to or purchased thousands of records that you didn't. TV appearances and record label marketing departments essentially narrowed your choices and made contemporary music more accessible than older music. The Internet hasn't so much radically altered access, in my view, as it has radically diminished the influence of major label marketing.

"But I still think he's right to say that something about contemporary music is actually less compelling, although like Taylor, I can offer no quantifiable standard by which to measure the cultural slump I perceive. I don't think the Internet is responsible for this, I think it's the cost of recording music. Digital recording technology has made it much, much less expensive for bands to make reasonably high-quality recordings in much less time than it took, say 15 years ago. That has meant it is a hell of a lot more feasible for broke bands to make a record, which combined with the Internet, puts more music in circulation. When the recording landscape was changing really fast in the late '90s, I remember a lot of people predicting a major musical flowering -- all of this creativity would no longer be constrained by money, and more new and exciting musical ideas would soon be available.

"I don't think that has happenned at all. Instead, we've got something of a boring rock band bubble. To be sure, there have been some great new artists in the past decade, but we've also heard lots and lots and lots of pleasant melodies and chimey guitars. Part of this is just the nature of digital recording -- the recording software is largely standardized across the industry, and it's very easy to do certain fixes to sound recordings now that you couldn't really do before 1995. Everybody uses the same equipment and deploys the same tricks, and everybody's records have a similar sound. But a huge part is just mediocrity. Access to recording has mostly enabled a lot of middle-of-the road music to be made that otherwise would never have surfaced. This isn't to say that record label A&R judgement was ever very reliable, but rather to say that record labels couldn't possibly sign as many artists who are making recordings on their own dime today. Again, I have no statistics to reference, but judging by the anecdotes of rock critics from the '70s and '80s, I don't think there were nearly as many bands a few decades back than there are now. When you have literally thousands of bands doing roughly the same thing, listening to older music can seem much more interesting."

Bathtub Gin Serenaders at Johnny B's 10/30/09

Monday, November 9, 2009

Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts

With no warning, the darkness came up over my left shoulder tonight and settled into my bones like a bad chill. It flooded my system like a needle full of heroin, washed over me, pulled me down. I knew right away what it was, knew it while it was happening. I knew the what of it, the why of it, this rush of biochemicals through the brain stem blocking out the light from my mind. But the knowing didn’t help. The knowing didn’t make it easier to bear. The knowing didn’t shut my mouth.

As if words could save me. As if words were my shield and sword.

When Cassandra refused the god Apollo, her punishment was to speak truth and never be believed. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts, she told them. The men of Ithaca are liars, the men of Argos are thieves, and the men of Sparta will spit you like a boar for the pleasure of it. Don't listen to their lies, she told them, but they didn't believe her. They opened the gate and the darkness rushed in. No-one was saved.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bad Rabbit

I finally broke into the Medford market with the Bathtub Gin Serenaders last Friday. The report from the floor was that our first song was fantastic and everything went rapidly downhill from there, which is kind of how it felt onstage. I'm not discouraged. We've only been playing together for a few weeks and this material is not easy. This ain't folk music, we do a song in A flat for god's sake. I can't fake my way through this shit; it takes work and I've been slacking.

I'm playing with Jon and Jesse at an art gallery tomorrow, a completely different set of songs with their own challenges, and which I haven't rehearsed nearly as much as I should. Bad, bad rabbit. Ah, but my old friends will be pleased to hear that we're going to play the Grateful Dead song Till the Morning Comes. I typed the song title into Google and got hits for the Dead, Neil Young, Roberta Flack, Paul Anka, and Tindersticks. Now that would be a show.