love and fear are not heteroexclusive (my word. just made it up.)

now playing: dolly varden, “too good to believe”

from former first daughter and ex-don henley squeeze patti reagan davis:

Feb. 23 – I once met a woman who was in her 70s but who had the weight of centuries pushing down on her shoulders. Her husband of more than 30 years had died long before I met her, yet she was still going through the backwash of grief. On the day of his death she was in the room that had become his last country—a hospital bed, a table of pill bottles, an oxygen tank. The end was coming. But she turned away at the fateful instant and missed his last breath. The doctor saw him die; so did the nurse. But his wife, the woman who knew him best, happened to look out the window at that one moment—the last she could ever have shared with him in this life.

By the time I was introduced to her, she was just coming out of a long bout of agoraphobia (fear of leaving home.) The phobia rushed in and devoured her about a year after her husband died. She told me clearly that the heavy stone in her heart—the granite of pain, of guilt, had invited in the phobia.

Love and loss are twin souls; we don’t have to live too many years to learn that, but the longer we live the more often we are reminded. We watch our parents age and often sit by helplessly as one gets ill, and the other tends to them, nurses them, feels the collision of love and loss in every moment. On March 4th, my parents will have been married 52 years. But only my mother will be aware of it. Alzheimer’s has erased all those decades from my father’s memory.

If we never love deeply, we will never experience loss carving us up inside. Then again, if we never love deeply, we won’t live fully, completely, joyfully pushing out the boundaries of our hearts. Many of us juggle these two truths.

If you only look at how many dating Web sites there are, how many matchmakers and how many magazine pieces promising to improve our relationship skills, you would think we are, collectively, eager for love. You would assume that we hold it as a high priority, a necessity.

Yet if you look further—say, at the divorce —you might start to wonder how committed we are to the worthiness of love. Why, as time goes on, do we seem to make more mistakes in our choices of partners? In our parents’ day, divorce was hardly as common as it is now. Did we act too hastily when we said “I do,” or bail out too readily when things got rough? As a divorced person, I can answer only for myself. My ex-husband is a wonderful man, and we have remained friends, but we were ill-suited as husband and wife, and I think we both secretly knew we were a mismatch when we got married.

The irony of our times is that the one group of people—gays— who passionately want to get married are slamming into a wall built of political concerns, legislative wrangling, right-wing religiosity (an oxymoron if I ever heard one), and oddly enraged TV pundits who seem to think the world will come to an end if two people of the same sex join in holy matrimony.

In the early 1970s, I was living with my boyfriend and our out-of wedlock arrangement was regarded as rather scandalous by both of our families. When I went to a wedding ceremony of a lesbian friend of mine, I was struck by the obvious irony. Here were two women who could not be legally wed, but who were happily celebrating their commitment to each other. They seemed to have a better understanding of the importance of ceremony, ritual, public declaration than people like me who tossed off the institution of marriage as unnecessary.

Whenever I hear about the furor over gay marriage, and whenever I step back and look at how tentative and wary we are about love (I’m including myself in that one) I wonder the same thing: What is it about love that frightens us so much? In the personal arena, the easy answer is, I suppose, loss. We wonder if we can survive the deep bruises to our hearts if our partner gets ill, or dies, or leaves. Solitude might be safer. Yet we see people surviving loss so we know it’s possible; the heart is a sturdy little muscle.

The harder question is: What is frightening about a same-sex couple standing forth in front of the world and making their commitment to one another public? Is the happiness of others really so threatening? Maybe the bravery is what’s threatening. I don’t know if I could stand up to society’s wrath in the name of love. I hope I could, but as a straight woman, I’ll never be tested on that one.

A woman I know sat at the bedside of a man dying from AIDS. He told her he didn’t think he’d accomplished much in his young life, and now he was dying.

She said, “Did you love?”

And he replied, “Oh, yes. I have loved deeply with all my heart.”

“Then you accomplished everything,” she said.

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doldrums

now playing: karla bonoff, “if he’s ever near”

as per my usual blogger routine, i glance over at the sidebar of recently published blogs and see if any of the titles catch my fancy…i woke up this morning in a foul, sad-for-the-state-of-the-world, wish-i-could-go-back-and-start-over kinda mood, and one of the blogs happened to be titled “doldrums” so i went straight there – to find an entry questioning the reader as to whether they shit once or twice a day…seriously.

didn’t bother to bookmark that one…

came back to the house this morning after taking the kids to school and flipped on the TV while i waited for wendy to get ready for work – vh1 classic was playing the video for “seven turns” by the allman brothers, which furthered my funk by slightly opening the quin wound…i talked to blake last night for a while, about finishing the record, about putting a band together – suggested we name it “the malcontents” only half jokingly….

i think i’ve been kidding myself for some time now. i’ve been touting myself as having made peace with my dinosaur status, and i’m not sure now that this has ever been true. i think that i’ve neither accepted dinosaur status nor made peace with it. i don’t consider myself a has-been, i don’t think that i’m no longer able or willing to contribute musically to the world, and i don’t think that i’m ready to settle for playing in bars for the rest of my life. i don’t think i’m ready to put myself out to pasture and tread water for the remaining days i have left.

one of my old grape street peers, jim boggia, posted this song (poem?) on his site some time back…i haven’t asked him about it, but i’m feeling like i want to post it here for your perusal. it seems to sum up my thoughts this morning.

I Realized This Afternoon While Driving to Connecticut


Last Tuesday – I sat across
from another – stupid record label boss.
He told me – I play the notes
too perfect – I should try to be more like the Strokes.
It made me so depressed that now I can’t get out of bed.
He wouldn’t know an artist if I kicked him in the head.

I saw the brass ring but I’m never, ever getting it
I realized this afternoon while driving to Connecticut.

West Hartford – is pretty far
from Philadelphia – about five hours in the car.
It gave me – time to think about
my life and – now I really have no doubt
unless I get a nipple ring, unless I shave my head
I better call a doctor to pronounce my career dead.

I saw the brass ring – I’m never, ever getting it
I realized this afternoon while driving to Connecticut.

I’ve read there was a time that
there were Record Execs who had ears to hear a well constructed melody –
that kind of person would do well with me.
But now it seems they only
want you if you’re angry and you play two chords and shout out some obscenities –
and since I don’t do that, the hell with me.

They’re supposed to be in A&R – yet they can’t understand
how this song I played on my guitar would sound played by a band.
Or, they’d really love to sign me – but they’re sorry, they’re not able
because Howie Day did not sell enough units for their label.
Or it’s just because my face is something less than photographic
or ‘cuz I don’t have 14 year old girls making my demographic.
I could keep on going on with their pathetic, lame excuses
but then I’d have to keep on driving all the way through Massachusettes.

I saw the brass ring and I’m never, ever, never, ever, never, ever, never, ever, never, ever, ever, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever . . .

I saw the brass ring – I’m never, ever getting it
I realized this afternoon while driving to Connecticut.

i guess this would be a good time for me to again rethink my position on validation – and where my sense of validation comes from.

or maybe, to examine that within the bigger question of what it would take to make me happy…or to bring me some peace.

most areas of my life are exactly the way i want them. i have a great relationship with my children, who – like their father – aren’t perfect, but i wouldn’t change a thing about them.

well, except for jayda’s taste in music and dylan’s attention span, maybe.

seriously, though, they are who they are and they’re both wonderful people, and i love that i get to be part of their lives and they part of mine. hell, once latin music gets over that Goddamn backbeat that is required by law to be in EVERY song, i may even start to like some of it….but i digress. while none of us were looking, we’ve become a family unit that actually enjoys each others’ company and leans on each other for support.

i’m one of the rare minority of americans who can honestly say that i enjoy my job a great deal. i make good money, and i have excellent customer service skills…and people trust me. from an occupational perspective, i think i’ve been pretty successful.

but this music thing still kicks my ass from time to time.

what i think i’m realizing is that i really want to be a part of something that has a sense of momentum…that at least creates some form of movement, a feeling that progress is being made, that there are a few more new faces in the crowd at every gig, that people are inspired by what you’re doing, that there’s some sort of emotional paycheck – however small – as a result of the turmoil and spiritual wear and tear that making that kind of effort exacts on you.

and, as i’ve said before, i don’t want the brass ring that jim is referring to, per se….i want to be a part of something i can be passionate about. even if it’s on a lower rung of the food chain – hell, especially if it’s on a lower rung of the food chain. if there’s one thing i know about myself, it’s that i’m not cut out for MTV – and in the current musical climate, i’m legitimately thrilled to be able to say that. nothing about what’s popular in this day and age excites me in the least. i have zero desire to be part of anything that might bear a resemblance to the success stories of these past few years (with an exception or two that i’m sure i’d defer to if they came to mind).

so what the fuck is it i want, you might ask?

truth?

the truth is…with apologies to the buttpirate from jerry maguire

i just wanna play.

but i want to do it a little further up the ladder…i wanna play for people who show up because we’re playing, not because there’s a draft beer special on friday nights. i wanna play for people who want to leave the show with a CD or their name on a mailing list…for people who show up to the gigs knowing the words to some of the songs. i wanna sleep on a bus careening down an interstate in the middle of the night with my guitars nestled in the belly between the wheels, waiting their turn for the next show.

this is my little “almost famous” pipe dream.

“would that those days but come again….and they will. they will. but not for me.”

— robert hunter

this is what i need to make peace with, i think.

they say it’s your birthday…

now playing: aunt pat, “saddest cowgirl”

today is my mom’s sixty-first birthday. happy birthday, mom.

it’s also kathy harris’ birthday, but i have no idea how old she is…i think she was twenty-six in 1984, but i’m a little fuzzy on that. she was a brief, intense from my iceland days – she’d actually ended up in the psychiatric ward and was discharged from the navy before i left there…that whole situation is a book in and of itself.

it’s also paul cotton‘s birthday today…paul is three years younger than my mom, if i recall…

i’m tired today. grand total of sleep from sunday night to now comes to around thirteen hours. i’m told this is a bad thing. my original plan was to get out of here today at a decent hour and take care of a couple of service calls so that i could be home in time for blake to come over, and to be there to supervise the final assembly of dylan’s book report project (which accounts for forty percent of his grade in mrs. mountain’s class), but my officemate bailed on me again today, so i have to stay and take care of her work for the second time this week.

there does come a time when the extra money doesn’t justify the obstacle that the extra hours present. this would be one of those times.

terminal

now playing: jackson browne, “something fine”

i remember very well the first time i heard that song – i had bought the first jackson album and “late for the sky” (on vinyl, no less) at a record store in keflavik, iceland when i lived there in 1984/1985. it was the perfect time in my life to have discovered those two records.

“you said ‘morocco’, and you made me smile
and it hasn’t been that easy for a long, long while
and looking back into your eyes i saw them really shine
giving me a taste of something fine…”

this song used to remind me of the time when i’d first arrived in wales and spent all my days in my makeshift studio, writing and recording songs (of which this was one). now, though, when i hear it i think of william miller and penny lane on the stillwater tour bus, talking about how they’d be completely different people and wear completely different clothes…there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that this song factored into those parts of the script.

i don’t know if i’ve ever been as prolific a writer as i was back then, but it was all garbage. it took a lot of lemon squeezing before i found my legs as a songwriter. thank God that i wasn’t aware at the time how much those songs sucked ass – if i’d known, i’d have quit…and the most important thing that a writer posesses before he finds his voice is his drive to create.

the kids and i backed into a conversation about songwriting last night – dylan wants to enter this contest that he saw on vh-1, and he’s feeling the need to write a song to submit. shady motivation to write, if you ask me, but he didn’t ask me. well, he did, actually…

“daaaaad….how do you write a song?”

i think i’d be more prepared for the “other” talk, actually…

but, we went into it a bit…i think jayda “gets” it. but then again, jayda was writing songs when she was seven. i remember not long after we’d moved into the apartment overlooking 5th street, we were listening to music one night and she asked me to play the song that had just played again – dan fogelberg‘s “to the morning” – and she wrote lyrics to a passage that repeats in that song a number of times and sang it to me.

seven.

anyway, i told dylan that – for me – songs typically germinated from one of two things. usually, it would be either a musical phrase or a riff that felt like it was worth expanding on, or it would be an actual lyric phrase – something that occured to me, or something that i overheard somewhere – that i felt belonged in a song. as often as not, though, you write a song out of nothing – you’re feeling the urge to be creative, and you want to open the channel. when that’s the case, the best thing you can do is sit down with your instrument and just start playing. you don’t even have to play anything in particular – in fact, i think it’s best to avoid playing anything specific – just play chords or riffs until something presents itself to you. sometimes something will come to you, sometimes it won’t…in fact, mary chapin carpenter said something once in an interview that lifted a huge weight from my shoulders…she said that it’s possible to beat one’s creative self into a pulp by trying to force ourselves to wring something out of ourselves when the channel isn’t open, and that there is no shame or failure in washing the car instead of writing a song if there’s no song to write that day. i think that’s a lesson that a lot of my kind refuse to learn.

anyway, i said to him that if you sit down with your guitar and you happen to find a series of notes or chords that resonate, that presents some kind of potential, then the next thing you should do is find out if there’s something singable that goes along with it…and usually, my method of doing that would just be to sing nonsensical syllables over it to “feel it out” for a possible vocal melody. (in fact, i have many, many minicassettes lying about of me doing just that…i probably should set a match to them…)

so he sat there, on the sofa, playing a I – V – IV – relative minor progression for a while, until jayda pointed out that “that’s already a song.” dylan says, “yeah, but i’m gonna change it a little.”

as it was starting to get late, though, i had to send them both up to bed. jayda went first, but she was followed in pretty short order by dylan. i turned out the lights in the living room and went upstairs to the bathroom and could hear dylan through the wall, “guitarring” with his voice and alternately humming and making drum sounds in between his little vocal riff.

i think he may be terminal.

glad…i guess.

now playing: crosby, stills, nash and young, “tell me why” (the bootleg version)

yeah, it’s a mellow afternoon.

yesterday, at this time, i was in the bleachers at southwest middle school losin’ my friggin’ mind. now, if you’ve read the posts from days before, you know that jayda’s basketball tournament was this past saturday, and they made an amazing showing for a team that has been losing consistently all season long by a point ratio of two to one.

yesterday, they played their last game of the season against the tournament champs.

i had barely gotten into my seat before they’d opened up a 6-0 lead against northwest middle school, and they kept them within four points of them for the entire game. the lead went back and forth a couple of times, but it was never out of either teams’ reach. with less than a minute left in regulation, the score was tied, 25-25. the officials set the clock for a two minute overtime and they took the ball out and the clock started…again, the score teetered back and forth for what seemed like an eternity, and northwest was ahead with less than a minute on the clock when jasmine dropped one to tie it up again, where it stayed as time ran out on the first overtime.

so, again, they set the clock for two minutes.

jayda’s team came out with the first basket, but southwest crept ahead by a point going into the last minute of the game…then, with less than 20 seconds on the clock, one of the opposing girls drew a foul as she was driving for the basket, and sank two free throws, bringing the score to 30-27.

they got the ball back and immediately started driving for their end of the court, but there was more court than clock, and they lost the game.

but i don’t think it was lost on anyone on that team what a turnaround they made in just the last week or so…after losing that heartbreaker to southern just last week, they seem to have found something in themselves in the time since.

in all seriousness, i don’t think i’ve ever experienced that much tension during any sporting event in my life, save for maybe the 2001 patriots postseason. i was screaming my fool head off…which turned out not to be a good thing later on, when i was trying to pull my singing voice outta my ass for the grape street swan song.

i had almost talked myself out of going before i ever left, because i was just plain friggin’ tired. but went i did…

first person i saw when i got there, walking up the empty street, was lee schusterman standing on the sidewalk out front. i introduced lee to wendy and we went inside.

the place looks pretty much like it always has in most ways. the mural is gone from the wall behind the stage, and the lights and backline are nicer, but it’s the same shithole it’s always been…i went upstairs to the bathroom to find the toilet filled all the way to the rim, and not appearing outwardly flushable (the porcelain cover on the back looked like it had been sledgehammered) – i couldn’t help smiling. the upstairs had gone largely back to looking like a deserted city apartment…empty rooms with beer-soaked carpet and no furniture (there used to be all sorts of easy chairs and such up there, and it was open, but not to the public – if you get my drift…but later they opened the doors to the general populace and put a bar and a makeshift stage up there.).

after lee, i ran into mike lightkep, the soundman – he gave us a rundown of the new place, and the hassles they’d encountered in getting the place up to code and pacifying a hostile community group…then i turned around and there stood tom del colle (the only real reason i entertained the thought of going in the first place).

tom and i caught up – he bought wendy and i a round of drinks and brought us up to date on how things had been at superior pasta (his place on rittenhouse square in the city) – he and marilyn finally got married after living together since harry truman was president (exaggerated only slightly) and they’d gone to amsterdam. he brought me up to date on some of the faces who didn’t show up, as well…garry lee chief among them. apparently dave ringler from isle of q has fallen off the edge, too…although no one was forthcoming with any actual details…

but, not long after tom showed up, everyone started showing up – jake carlin, the original grape bartender and first guitarist with june rich…the guys from four way streetjim boggia, ben arnold, joseph parsons, and scott bricklin…jack faulkner was there, kevin hanson from the late, lamented huffamoose, bruce reinfeld of polar creep (another band i used to be in for a while) – plus a veritable assload of people i never saw before in my life. conspicuous in their absence, as far as i was concerned, were garry lee, ray naylor, steven wellner, matt sevier, derek dorsey, nik everett…and more that i’m sure i’m missing….

i left with a good feeling, and was glad that i went. it was probably as close to a high school reunion as i’ll ever get, but without the hangups that accompany that era of your life. it was nostalgia, but it was good nostalgia…no awful flashbacks of the time you tripped in the cafeteria and fell face first on your lunchtray and wore salisbury steak to all your afternoon classes.

glad i went.

glad i played.

glad it’s over.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…..

 

now playing: jackson browne, “hold out”

it probably goes without saying that, based on the amount of sleep i’ve gotten overnight, that i’m already thinking about bagging the grape street thing tonight, but i know i’ll go through with it, when it comes down to it. i may be making an early exit, though.

my son has struck again…last night, before i left to come in, i told him that he should go downstairs and take the laundry from the washer and put it in the dryer…and apparently, this is exactly what he did – this and nothing more. he didn’t bother to turn the dryer on, so the clothing was still there, in its dripping wet splendor, when jayda went down to put her own clothes in.

she called me at work to tell me this, and i just had to laugh. i wanted to be pissed, but i couldn’t…what a wimp i am.

boy, could i use a nap….

another personal historic landmark falls by the wayside

now playing: dan fogelberg, “to the morning”

tonight finds me at work, trying to piece together some semblance of reason and functionality from the shards and pieces of a hopelessly obsolete backup system that doesn’t play well with others…and of course, the responsibility for doing so seems to come to rest on my shoulders, somehow. not sure how this keeps happening, but it keeps happening.

i put this off until the last possible hour, as i had the kids this weekend, and didn’t want to waste an excessive amount of their time here at work. it was a good weekend for kid time – jayda’s basketball tournament was first thing on saturday, and they played better than they have all season. they came in third, and came within three points of playing for the championship – the team that they lost to (27-24), played the team that won to within two points at the final buzzer of the last game, and jayda’s team missed a three-pointer at the buzzer that would’ve tied the game.

i spent a whole lot of time on the edge of my seat, to say the least.

jayda’s team plays their final game of the season tomorrow, against the team that won the championship – and if they play the way they did on saturday, they stand to win. i think they needed saturday to pull their spirits up.

saturday night, after a series of naps, we all convened downstairs to watch movies together, which we almost never do, and it felt good to have everyone in the same room, in each others’ company. this doesn’t often happen at my house, and it was good to have nothing else to do for once.

but the phone rang saturday night any number of times – one of the calls was scooter, the booking agent for the grape street pub in philadelphia, where i used to host songwriters’ nights ages ago. certainly, if i made a list of everyone i’d potentially get a phone call from, he’d be in the bottom five – but i digress.

apparently, “the grape” is closing its doors, and they’re having the last ever monday night songwriters’ night tomorrow night, and he asked if i’d consider coming down and playing a short set….i said yes, although i’ve been having some second thoughts in the time since, but it should be ok. i don’t know if i’m prepared for a nostalgia-fest with this particular group of people.

during the years when my musical career held promise, i used to host the songwriters’ night there – it was during a period (1994-1997 or so) when the philadelphia music scene was vibrant…when there were bands that were being scouted by labels and there were articles in the philadelphia inquirer and billboard about the scene and the bands in it – personally had a review of my album in a couple of prominent magazines…and it felt like something was happening. it was, to me, the equivalent of what it must have been like in the early seventies in LA at places like the Troubadour, when people like jackson browne and glenn frey and don henley and dan fogelberg used to show up for “hoots” and play on each other’s demos…before everyone had record deals and were too cool to hang out anymore.

it might seem like an exaggeration to compare “the grape” to that period of time, but i doubt anyone else who was there would say so.

we used to close the doors at 1 AM, and then the actual party started. we’d fall into these little impromptu jam sessions that would go on into all hours of the night. during that time, there were many nights when i wouldn’t leave for home until 4 AM. some nights, we’d actually shut down the stage and sit on the bar and play, while “uncle tom” del colle tended bar for those of us who stuck around. tom was the soul of that place as much as anyone was.

it didn’t occur to me to ask if he’d be there when scooter called.

later on, as the scene degenerated into an atrophied, stagnant version of its former self, the grape would become my own personal “groundhog day” – every time i’d go there, the same people would be standing in the same place, talking to the same people about the same people as the last time i was there. at one point, i was relieved of my duties hosting monday nights – they didn’t have the guts to tell me themselves, i had to hear it from garry lee in the lobby of a hotel in memphis, tennessee during the folk alliance conference. they asked me back a few months later, but it was never the same as it was the first round, and i eventually found my way back outside, and never really went back – i was there a handful of times since, the most recent being about three years ago for a gig with my friend charlie degenhart.

as has been said many times, you can’t go back home again.

i wrote a song, a long time ago, called “uncle tom’s cafe” that i might have to dig out when i get home and re-learn for tomorrow night. it’d be a fitting epitaph, i think.

so, if you’re not doing anything monday night, come out and help us say goodbye.

for me, the grape closed a long time ago.


down here beneath the big steel track
the breeze hangs in the air
in a little while, the sky turns black
tonight we’ll all end up down there

the lights go up and the songs begin
the music plays and your friends file in
and everything’s just the way it’s been

it’s just another day
that we’ll all get up and play
at uncle tom’s cafe

there are faces painted on the wall
people circled ’round the bar
you hear the rumors rise and fall
it reminds you where you are

the conversations that the song withstands
you watch your heroes slipping through your hands
say goodbye to your best laid plans

too soon they fade away
but you might find them here someday
at uncle tom’s cafe

you used to waste away these nights tossing dreams into the wind
now all the time you spent down here – it means nothing in the end

the nights are falling early now
the winds’ picked up a chill
we all must walk upon this wire
we all end up where we will

now the music’s playing just like before
but your friends don’t come around no more
you wonder just what you do this for

you never thought you’d see the day
but all good things go the way
of uncle tom’s cafe

you know, these moments fade away
but we might find them here someday
and we can all get up and play
at uncle tom’s cafe

uncle tom’s cafe by tom hampton, 12/19/95