Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What’s the Buzz, tell me what’s-a-happening? (or "Life on the Road")

I was out with Peter Searcy's band again this past weekend, and we hung out with a friend in Columbia, South Carolina. Between sets, she asked us what we did on the road. I used to wonder the same thing, so I thought i'd debunk the myths a bit.

First off, our tour bus only gets limited cable. The bunks are a decent size, but there are so many groupies that it's hard to get comfortable. Also, I'm a vegetarian, and we only have one refrigerator. This means that my hummus has to share a shelf with Steven's beef jerky. And our driver likes to take blue highways from time to time, which makes me carsick.

Wait, no, that was just some dream I had.

We don't have a tour bus; we've got a rockin' conversion van. It does have a DVD player, and it turns out I like old zombie movies. Two trips ago, we watched a bunch of zombie movies, and the first season of "The Office," which was sort of like a modern zombie series. Even when I worked in an office, it was a CBS News, so things were a bit more exciting than intra-mural basketball. I mean, we had a bake-off, for God's sake. (By the way, when I quit my job at CBS News, i had just been crowned the CBS News Bakemaster. I think this means I am undefeated. Really, it's just because i insisted on using bourbon in every delicious dessert I made. You have to have a theme to make the people love you.)

Back to the bus... this time, Peter and I did a lot of podcast listening. Mostly because the three of us have very different taste in music, and i was the only one packing an iPod. My iPod is full of showtunes, good ol' country, Frank Sinatra, Led Zeppelin, songwriters, and political podcasts. We listened to a few episodes of "60 Minutes" and several "This American Life" programs. Isn't this exactly how you imagined indie-rock God Peter Searcy and mazel-tonkin' Brigid Kaelin, spending their time on 24-East?

In the green room, we avoided the disgustingly-smoke-filled Atlanta room, by browsing inappropriate websites. Only kidding. Mostly, i checked my email and wrote the previous blog. We looked up the lyrics to "Dreamweaver." I checked my pockets for new state quarters.

On our way home, Peter and I spent about half-an-hour with a learn-Italian now podcast, where we learned how to ask where you're going. "Ciao, Peter. Dove vai?"

But the best part of all was on the final two-hour stretch home. It's exactly how you'd picture we rockers. We went back to music, and cranked up the volume. We didn't even fade the volume to the front of the van only so as to be kind to the backseat drummer. No, he had to be subjected to our show.

"My mind is clearer now/at last, all too well/i can see, where we all/ soon will be."

Yes, that's right, folks. We pumped up the volume, and did some role-playing. Peter got to play Judas (which apparently, he played on-stage many years back), and I took on the roles of Jesus and Mary. But i knew more of Judas's part than Jesus's (what does that say about me?), so i mostly just mumbled over the Jesus lines. I was quite good at Mary Magadalene and the crowd... "what's the buzz, tell me what's-a-happening?". And Peter and I both wailed out King Herod's song.

Peter, sorry if I've outed you. I don't think Jesus Christ Superstar counts as showtunes though. That bass line? that's pure rock. If you knew all the words to Guys and Dolls, it might be embarassing. Actually, I know all the words to Guys and Dolls. But, I'm a doll, so i think i can get away with it.

If you're reading this, go buy my chanukah tunes. Or put them on your page:) And plan to come to the release party December 7 at Gerstle's. The Muckrakers start the show off. They are fun.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Oh, Atlanta!

Oh, Atlanta!
Writing this from the green room at some random club in Atlanta, where Peter and I played tonight.

I'm back on the road. The show tonight was average. Well, we rocked, with the help of Greg Lee, an uber-fun bass player who live in Atlanta. It was just a strange crowd of hipsters. There were a few really great folks in the audience though, and they were much appreciated.

The best part of the day was the crack-o-ritas that we had. There is a mexican restaurant on Ponce de Leon that, i swear, laces their margaritas with some pharmaceuticals. Every time we come here, it only takes one, and we are all just loopy. But we know the secret now, so we know to order just one.

The second best part of the day was enforcing my belief that Peter Searcy can yodel. I mean, i've heard is epiglottis flip! Somewhere on 24East, i subjected the van to a podcast i discovered called "Yodelcast." We listened to some serious Bavarian yodeling, and I tried to guide Peter through some epiglottis gymnastics.

I think the problem is that you really need to be alone to yodel. It's very personal, and it needs to be loud. Peter was really close to just letting go and yodeling his indie-rock heart out, but i think he was holding back a bit. Likely, he was timid because he was trying to be a nice guy bandleader and not bother the sleeping drummer. I was not so kind, and i yodeled quite a bit on the road.

Sorry, Steven. Well, not really. I think you should probably learn how to yodel too.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Chanukah and Muck

Chanukah and Muck
Current mood: mischievous
A few nights ago, I casually asked my mom when Chanukah starts this year. As a child, I always remember it overlapping with Christmas. And before you ask, yes, I was that kid who got both Chanukah AND Christmas, thanks to my parents' brilliant inter-religious marriage. I should add a disclaimer though, that no, i never got the standard 8-presents-in-8-nights. Usually I got a book or sweater on the first night, then a record or a sweater for Christmas. I wasn't spoiled, and i wasn't deprived. (My mom reads this blog, so i feel i always have to clarify.)

Anyway, the point is, I thought I had plenty of time to record and release a quick little single in time for Chanukah, when my mom responded, "It's December 4."

December 4th???!?! That's, like, next week practically. Whose idea was that? There's not even a slight overlap. Not even time to wait for the after-Christmas sales, and still have time-appropriate Chanukah gifts for your grandparents.

Apparently, Chanukah begins on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, which shifts depending on year, the sun, the moon, and various algorithms. You c an try to make sense out of why they add an extra month about once every two or three years, by reading the wiki here. Good luck with that.

This doesn't mean that I'm rushing out to do any shopping. I tend to buy gifts throughout the year for people and bequeath them immediately. So i don't really feel the need to buy a lot of stuff at Christmas (or Chanukah -- see how confused the mixed marriage made me?).

No, my mad rush isn't to the mall; it's to Peter Searcy's studio to quickly record my Chanukah single.

I'm typing this from Heine Brothers, where "O Holy Night" is playing. While i concur that the song is beautiful, i get a little tired of all the Jesus talk.

So stay tuned for two new Chanukah country tunes. Tell your friends who feel a little left out this time a year to look for a special limited-edition release.

December 4 .. at sundown, of course.


And as a sidenote ... i played some accordion and piano on a couple of tunes for The Muckrakers
on Tuesday evening. They are releasing a series of tunes, available on their website. Check them out, if you haven't already. They have, like 40thousand friends, so you're probably already onto them. But if you're not ... I recommend! I'm playing a show with them at Gerstle's on December 7. Which is the 4th night of Chanukah, for those of you paying attention.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Michael and the Magic Shirt -- Part Two; "The Gunfighter"

Current mood: chipper
My pal Erin wrote a great blog back in August about Lucky Shirts (scroll down to Aug 6, 2007, if you're clicking on this link). Hers is a fantastic brown t-shirt that says "Just Add Bourbon." My lucky shirt of late seems to be a 28-year-old thin-like-it's-vintage (oh, wait it, is vintage), faded blue t-shrt from the old Bluegrass Festival on the Belvedere. My mom bought one every year of its existence, and I liberated them from her when I was in high school. Good things seem to happen when I wear the dark blue one from 1979.

And when Michael tried on that black Scully western shirt, he had no idea he had just found his lucky shirt. The shirt that turns an introvert into the outgoing life of the party.

The storekeeper told him it had a name: The Gunfighter. It was an old pattern, from the real days of the wild west.

Michael the Gunfighter wore his shirt to dinner, where a smug Charles snickered condascendingly and said to me, "I knew you were going to convince him to buy a shirt."

I told Charles, "That shirt found him."

After dinner, the shirt worked its magic throughout Nashville's hotspots. It heard Dale Watson at the Mercy Lounge, an incredibly loud gospel singer at the Cannery, Grayson Capps at 3rd & Lindsley, and Tommy Womack at the Basement. The shirt hit four clubs in three hours, but it was ready to go home yet.

Now, a standard red polo shirt might have convinced Michael and his partner-in-crime (AKA me, the designated driver) to call it a night at that point. But the shirt asked: what now? The shirt was the life of the party, and it wanted to go back to the Cannery for Chicken-n-Waffles, the big after-party of the Americana Music Conference.

Music was heard, chicken and waffles were consumed (just waffles by me, the vegetarian), and at some point the shirt magically even got me up on stage, playing accordion with various Nashville cats and a gospel singer.

It was a fun evening.

And the shirt made another appearance at Sunday night's MERF benefit show, featuring Sam Bush, Tim Krekel, John Cowan, Greg Martin, etc .... you just might be able to hear the shirt and its vibes every Sunday night from 6-8pm on my favorite Americana show: WFPK's Roots 'n' Boots.

What's your favorite shirt?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

from the studio

from the studio
Current mood: thankful
Monday morning, when i arrived at the recording studio, I had every intention of driving back to Louisville that same evening. Then I went out for mexican food with Duane, Justin, and Robby, and two margaritas later, I changed my mind.

Except for one very strange evening back in Louisville (Thursday), I've been in Lexington all week.

It's been both leisurely and productive. Most of all, I have really enjoyed exploring my songs with these guys. There's always a moment for me when I'm suddenly nervous that my songs totally suck and the studio musicians are just there for the money. And I know they are there for the money, but it's beautiful to watch them get excited about an idea and make the song come to life. My last record was full of brilliant musicians, but this time it feels like I've got an actual band who cares and appreciates the nuances of the song. I wish I could pack them in the volvo and take them back home with me.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A Poem by my Good Friend

a poem by my good friend
Current mood: creative
I spent most of the week in Shangri-La, an aptly-named recording studio in Lexington. Though i had many gracious offers by outstanding Louisville & Nashville musicians to play on/record my next record, I made an executive decision to record with folks who have never heard me play before. I was apprehensive, but i'm thrilled. There will still be a few surprise guest-artist appearances, but for the most part, it's a solid group of Lexington-based players.

I have crushes on them all.

Which reminded me of a charming poem by my good friend Erin Keane (whose new book of poems, The Gravity Soundtrack is available from WordFarm Press or through Amazon.com ).

She wrote this last summer, and i haven't heard her read it often. I found it yesterday in my old inbox, and remembered that yes, some things in life can't be solved by a new tattoo.

cheers, Erin -- and edit as necessary.


because I wanted to see if
there really are things in life
that can't be fixed with a new
tattoo. I stopped dating artists

because the gallery already had
a receptionist, the band already
had a tour manager and anyone
who claims to be excited about
playing Laertes all summer in
Moline deserves to be denounced
as a liar. I quit dating artists

because now when my man
says, in public: darlin' you know
I need you, I am reasonably sure
he means me and not some chick
named Melissa who dumped
him in tenth grade for that guy
who now drums for the Strokes.

I stopped dating artists because
there is nothing hotter than health
insurance (except maybe dental)
and my 95-degree days off will
never again involve a staple gun,
his show's poster and three
hundred and twenty-six utility
poles. I quit dating artists so that

if there should be a downward
spiral, like a small problem with
cocaine or the law, it will not be
chronicled in gory detail by
a seventeen-year-old's stapled
'zine called Andy Warhol Ate
My Nuts. I'm done with artists

because when The Blahdiblah
Review ran my poem "Gammy's
Hands Are Gnarled and Wise,"
that was no reason to sleep with
either of my roommates, Kevin.

I'm done with artists because I
get a little confused about "naked
time" between "best friends,"
and how a girl in the bed
is worth only half a tin whistle
lesson, and why I had to know
Cliff Burton's name but that guy
on our couch for six weeks only
answered to "Moog." I'm through

dating artists because I ran out
of ways to say "you're like a
young Ernest Hemingway"
which is basically the same
thing as a young James Dean
or Kurt Cobain or Toulouse
Lautrec except I know, baby,
you're not a dwarf. I stopped

dating artists because method
acting is not an excuse to stop
washing your hair, because
that porno you want to shoot is not
performance art, because my
Uncle Jim-Dog's funeral, no
matter how country, is really
not a suitable subject for a
devastatingly satirical list that
you hope will be your ticket
into McSweeney's. I am done

dating artists because I have
better things to do than watch
them practice, like naming
minor characters in my novel
after them then killing them
off with something noble like
syphilis, or writing songs about
their best friend's hot new
car which I will then play at
their hometown's open mic,

or drunk-dialing them at 3 a.m.
to say darlin' you know I need you
and then never showing up but
claiming innocence after the fact
because after all, I'm an artist, baby,
you of all people should understand.

now: go buy Erin's book!!!
Currently reading:
The Gravity Soundtrack
By Erin Keane
Release date: 29 October, 2007

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Michael and the Magic Shirt

Michael and the Magic Shirt"
Current mood: chipper
The image of a young man stepping onto Nashville's Lower Broadway sidewalks, guitar in hand, dreams in heart, and not much in the head, is something out of Hollywood, or a good PR firm. But really, there's a lot of sparkle that comes out of just being surrounded by good people doing good things. You don't have to be an aspiring musician. You can be a music fan. You can be a writing fan, a movie fan, a traveler, whatever. Or you can be the host of a weekly radio show.
Whatever you may be, there is something about being there that makes you want one thing, and one thing only: a great country shirt.

The setting: the Country Music Hall of Fame
The scene: two book-writers, two song-writers, discussing, reading, sharing

After being inspired by Silas House, Scott Miller, Chris Knight, and William Gay, our little gang of excitable Kentuckians hit the gift shop. I bought the one Silas House novel i didn't already have (Coal Tattoo) and hit the autograph line. As i sheepishly explained that i didn't already own it because i'd checked it out from the library (is that like illegal downloading is to a musician? ), Mr. House graciously signed my book and asked me when my next record was going to be released. "I've worn out your other one," he said, which made me blush and also made me wonder if I could put that quote on one of those cool stickers you see on the front of a CD package. (By the way, I have a very brief list of people i'd love to write with someday, and Silas House is on that list).

Aside from the novels and CDs and music memorabilia available in the CMHofFame gift shop, there are some most excellent shirts. But not the greatest selection. And one thing was obvious from the glowing sparkle in my pal Michael's eyes: he needed a shirt.

I decided we should head over to Katy K's on 12th Avenue South, where a wider selection of vintage and tailor-made shirts awaited us. At this point, half of our group retreated to the hotel, but Michael and I were on a mission. It might be better to say that I was on a mission to see this man's wardrobe dreams fulfilled. That's what i do, folks. I see that people follow their dreams.

The shirt was found, but at a price. A price much higher than desired.

While Michael fretted and fawned over the variety of brilliant shirts, I found a fabulous green and white polka dot Kitty Wells-type dress.

"This shirt's too much. My wife will kill me," Michael said.

"Well, then, just try it on. It might not fit, then you won't have to worry anymore," I replied. Oh, I am so bad.

"Okay, but you try on the dress."

I did, which fit okay, but i didn't really like that this particular size dress fit as well as it did. Besides that, the dress was $175 and sales tax is more in Tennessee, and that is just absurd. But i did few twirls and successfully got "Honky Tonk Angels" stuck in my head for a good six hours.

And as for Michael? Unfortunately, the shirt fit brilliantly.

"It's a bit much ... a bit louder than I ever wear," he said. But he said it with such a huge grin that it was like a whole other person was creeping out from under his demure exterior.

I should note that the shirt was not loud, by any other standards. It was black, tailored perfectly, with bronze-toned brown threading across the shoulders and chest.

"And it's too much money," he said again, his grin growing with every glance in the mirror.

I agreed, and then pointed out, "But it's got black AND brown in it, so you could wear it with anything. So really, it's like buying two shirts. Or three."

He told me I'm a bad influence, and I told him, "Fine then, don't get the shirt. It's too expensive."

We left the store, pausing to discuss the expensive, but fabulous shirt, with the shopkeeper. We could always come back tomorrow before he head back for Louisville.

"Oh, you're from Louisville," the shopkeeper asked. "I know people in Louisville."

We played that game for about ten minutes, before finally retreating to the car.

Sitting in the car, we once again discussed the shirt's pros and cons, when a car pulled up next to us. A tall, handsome man with a skip in his step, got out and walked towards the store entrance.

"Hey, that's Peter Cooper! I bet he's getting a shirt," I exclaimed. Peter heard this, and walked over to the car window to say hello.

After a brief introduction, I explained to Peter, "We're deciding whether or not to back in and get the shirt."

"Get the shirt," Peter said decidedly.

"Are you getting the shirt," I asked.

"I already bought the shirt. I'm picking up the shirt now. I had rhinestones added to it. Actually, I got two shirts."

And with that, we watched Peter go in the store.

Michael's grin had changed to one of defiance and excitement, and we jumped out of the car, back into the store.

"I'm getting the shirt!" he said, as Peter, the shopkeeper, and I cheered.

* * * * *

perhaps, to be continued (someday)