I’m writing (again) from an airport gate. I’m drowsy and drained, waiting to board my flight to Memphis, and the bottom of my jeans are wet. The bottom of my jeans have stayed wet since I landed Thursday, the unhappy byproduct of some weekend “nor’easter.” What is a nor’easter? Something that blows Chicago-on-steroids winds and keeps your clothes damp. New York had a cold this weekend; it was gray and seemed angry. But this morning is clear and sunny and cool when the breeze comes. It’s perfect now, and I’m leaving.
In My Ear(buds):
Stereophonics, “Since I Told You It’s Over.”
Seemingly every song on this album (You Gotta Go There To Come Back) combines a somber verse with an oddly uplifting chorus. For me, they all connect.
Billy Bragg & Wilco, “Remember the Mountain Bed.”
Every time you think you have Woody Guthrie pegged, he blindsides you. Proof yet again that Guthrie wasn’t just a master lyricist; he was a poet.
Delta Spirit, “Bushwick Blues.”
Brooklyn in my ears, Brooklyn on my mind.
Pearl Jam, “All Those Yesterdays.”
A song that should be sad, but somehow isn’t.
Favorite Show Moment:
Getting to debut a brand new song, “Never In Love.” As with this big new batch of songs I’m finishing, it’s not 100% done. But there’s three reasons I always love playing a new song out for the first time:
1) You don’t know what’s working (and what isn’t) until it’s live. Something weird happens to a song between rehearsal the show–it takes on its own life. The same thing you felt comfortable doing in practice suddenly becomes unnatural. Lines run too long. Lyrics feel cumbersome to sing. Live, in the moment, in front of a crowd, the song has a way of working its own kinks out.
2) The audience is always right. If they like it, they’ll tell you. If something’s working, they’ll show you. It’s a great, unspoken dialogue. All I have to do is sing and listen.
3) There’s no better way to spice up a set. As much as I love playing songs off the first three albums, the experience of performing them gets familiar over time. But with a new song, anything can happen. It’s fresh, and exciting, and you don’t know when you start where you’ll end up. I love that feeling.
I hope to post a live video of “Never In Love” in the next day or so–check the site for an update. In the meantime, thanks again to the NY crowds for being so cool and receptive to new things. It’s a joy playing for y’all.
Favorite Non-Show Moment:
Coming through security in LaGuardia, my guitar case had to be inspected. I carry a small bottle of guitar polish with me, and I guess they wanted to check it out. But the guy who went through the bag introduced himself, told me he’s played guitar for thirty years, and talked to me about how airports don’t handle instruments as well as they should. He asked if I’d learned the hard way not to check a guitar (meaning it almost always gets damaged either in inspection or in transit), and I told him, yes, actually I have learned that the hard way.
I thought I was the only one who was wildly protective of my instrument, and anxious when I travel with it, and nervous when folks at the airport inevitably handle it. It was great to deal with someone who understood, and went out of his way to help.
Least Favorite Non-Show Moment:
For the year I lived in NYC, I never really had any subway problems. Trains arrived on time and took me where I meant to go. Now, between new trains, schedule changes, re-routes and weekend schedules for maintenance/etc., I don’t know how to get anywhere. It took me between one hour and three days to get from Columbia to downtown. At one point I thought I was in an epic poem. A badly lit, subterranean, wildly unglamorous epic poem.
In the Rearview:
New York (again).
I think something’s wrong with me. When people live somewhere, then move away, then come visit, they usually feel a familiarity of place. They emotionally reconnect to that place, picking up where they left off. Familiar sites, sounds, and smells trigger a gale wind of memories. Nostalgia abounds. They remember the old times while experiencing the new times and feel at home again. It all comes back.
But something’s wrong with me. I don’t do this. Don’t get me wrong–I adore New York, look forward to visiting, and relish my time here. But I don’t pick up where I left off. It’s not the next chapter of a larger novel. Each stay here is its own isolated short story, independent of the last. Walking around the East Village, passing familiar haunts, I don’t feel, “there’s my bar,” or “there’s our place.” There’s no ownership of New York, at least not for me. There’s no owning it at all. It’s just a mad majestic jewel that stands before you, exists without you, laughs alongside you, and you take it as it comes. So, I take it as it comes, never feeling that feeling of “mine.” New York’s never been mine; that’s partly why I love it.
Memphis (again). I’m going home to a little white house in midtown, and I’m going to write some songs. My front porch is sitting there in the sun, the chairs empty, the place familiar, comfortable, smiling at me. It’s been perfect weather in Memphis for almost a month now. There is no nor’easter.