"Our Oars Became Wings"
I don't know if Mike ever read the Nevil Shute novel "On The Beach"
but the term chimping puts me in mind of it. The hundred monkeys typing
where one of those monkeys, after indefinite keystrokes, may perchance
recreate the bible or a Shakespearean sonnet. Written in 1951, at the
beginning of the Cold War, the story takes place after World War III
when the northern hemisphere has been decimated by nuclear war. It's
only a matter of time before the radiation drifts downward through the
atmosphere and kills off life in the southern hemisphere. A U.S. submarine,
the last remaining warship, is "stationed" at a port in Australia awaiting
orders that it knows will never come. Ironically, a morse code transmission
has been coming from the Seattle area, mostly gibberish. The ship's
captain decides to launch an investigative mission which dubiously takes
the sub to the naval base in Puget Sound. I ain't gonna say any more
here..... ya just have to read the book yourself. It was made into a
movie in 1960; a great film but I definitely recommend the book.
I had been working on Irma (the never-say-die Toyotafor many years
I named my cars after Shirley MacLaine characters... remember Irma La
Duce?) for the past few months and only needed to give her new front
wheel bearings and brake rotors to consider her fully roadworthy again.
Other than that it was the standard tune-up and the heater didn't work
because of the blower being filled with dead leaves. The heater's condition
was a misplaced concern; it would be spring in the southwest leg of
the ride and what is best called pre-summer throughout the south. Heater?
No need to labor the story, but I finally had my shit ready to go on
monday the 15th, Tax Day. This was a jaunt I was looking forward to
because the first destination would be a mostly non-interstate route.
But I felt sad in Brady, Tx as I expectantly drove past the empty stone
building that was once the most unlikely coffeehouse I've ever encountered.
Years ago as I was ending another tour I saw it there in the chilly
fall night, all draped in colorful mini-lites and radiating that grand
aura that coffeehouses used to have... but don't anymore. So I stopped
in and sat for a spell with a great cup o joe and conversation with
the localsnot one ounce of yuppie pretense here. It was the Twilight
Zone with cappucino and karaoke. Yeah! But it's gone now and somehow
that road to Lubbock didn't seem so magical and I even missed seeing
the fabulous Uniroyal Gal in La Mesa. Maybe I should be thankful it
As I knew it would be, the haul to Albuquerque was the longest and most
tiringabout 750 milesand I was truly a bundle of nerves
at that first gig at the Launchpad. The week leading to departure didn't
afford me much sleep so I forced myself to leave a day ahead of time
(first gig was the 16th) and in Lubbock I got a hotel room and slept
hard as a rock. Good move. In the ensuing drive I suffered driver-door
sunburn on my arm and by the time I realized it was too late. Ouch!
But that's the price paid. At the club I docked, found Captain Watt
and was granted permission to come aboard with my oars. It was a hard
gig for me but all in all it went pretty well. It must have cuz I got
kidnapped by a cute girl at the end of the night! Wow! And geeeezzzz,
it was the first show of the trip, for chrissakes! I know I had introduced
myself onstage as "the other grumpy old man" but somehow I don't feel
so old or grumpy after that. I think it was the great cosmic giggle
working here... and great companionship. Maybe we should run off to
Vegas and get hitched.....
Next night in Santa Fe was a much better show for me playing-wise. It
always takes getting past the first show to settle into myself. But
damn! The altitude took a toll on Irma. It was the Lubbock show that
really got me into the swing of things. At the Blue Light, I finally
achieved my dream of playing in this legendary town on Buddy Holly Ave.
of all places. Yeah, shortly after moving to Austin I met the whole
Lubbock songwriter contingent: Butch Hancock, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Joe
Ely, Jo Carol Pierce and my musical life took a sudden shift into another
direction. I had a chance to hang out with these folks a number of times.
I was always amazed at Hancock's songwriting abilities and he gave me
some of the best advice I've ever encountered. He said, "One of the
best things for songwriting is to get a job that has absolutely nothing
to do with the music business." So take heed. But insofar as the
gig, it was an odd night when the club was doing a pre-party for some
festival that was happening the next day and I guess we were the entertainment.
I'll just sum up by saying the show was not unlike being exiled in a
Miller Lite commercial. Nuff said?
In Oklahoma City I was hoping my friend Laura, who used to work at the
Red Cup Cafe, would somehow show up out of the blue but no such luck.
Two years ago at the end of a tour when I was on the verge of getting
sick she gave me much needed shelter from the storm but then she just
disappeared a few weeks later. A sad thing to have hanging in the air
is the thought of how some friends truly worry me. She disappeared once
before for less than good reasons and that sense of worry is still with
I had to hit the road immediately after my OKC show. The next two shows
I wasn't playing and that gave me two days off at home to finish up
some pressing matters... and see if my cars were still in my backyard.
Luckily, my friend Catherine Sherer of the band Idle Road had a bed
waiting for me in Dallas so I didn't have to drive the full 400 miles
that night. She's a full-grade Irish dancer and a really great gal with
whom I've been conspiring on throwing a big monster ceili (kay-lee;
an Irish dance party) in Austin as soon as we find the right place to
do it. I woke to the sound of her boyfriend Chuck practicing his mandolin
in the next room. Great! We yakked a bit and then Emily, Idle Road's
guitarist, came over to run over some tunes with Chuck. A nice acoustic
saturday morning. They had a gig that night and wanted me to stay and
sit in with them. That would have been great but I knew I needed to
get home asap so I could pick up the tour where I left off without any
undone things hanging over my head.
The first leg of the tour really went by in a blur considering everything.
It proved impossible to catch up on any sleep until I hoofed it back
down to Austin. The two days off made all the difference in the world
for me. I had been having enormous problems with my fiddola. First of
all, I hadn't planned on bringing it til we decided I would sit in on
two songs in Watt's set. This is an instrument I hadn't touched in quite
a while so when you combine the fact that it's an instrument that doesn't
really travel well, whatcha got is problems! Sure, I had checked it
(and even scratched a tune or two) before I left but when I pulled it
out of the case in Albuquerque the soundpost had dislodged and that
meant no fiddola tonight. The next day Kamille (my kidnapper) got me
to a violin store where the repair guy (and a genuinely nice repair
guy) fixed it for me for free. Thanks! But there was still the sad condition
of my bows which were on their way to becoming hairless; not to mention
the case being in an advanced state of losing its hinges. So at Violins,
Etc. (in Austin) I bought two new bows and a new case that was really
more than I could afford but hell, sometimes ya gotta bite the bullet
and find that what you need is what you deserve. Yeah, I deserve it.
Overall, I can't say that I had any bad shows other than that first
one, and it really wasn't bad, it's just that I felt "out of it" after
the long drive and, in the weeks before hitting the road, I didn't have
enough time to sit down and play and figure out what I was gonna do.
I don't play off a set list. Usually, I get into my head what 2 or 3
tunes to open withand even this can be influenced greatly by the
way the show or the club feels before I go onand after that I'll
just play whatever feels right at the time. And yes, it's a tough job
to walk onstage and play acoustically after a loud band has blasted
but hell! what's life without a challenge?
Maybe the Santa Fe show felt particularly good. Probably due to the
small size of the room and having gone on right after the band DeVotchka.
They had a kinda multi-levelled Eastern European thang goin' on with
accordion, fiddle, bouzouki, upright bass and tuba (aside from the standard
guitars and drums). Yeah, tonalities I could relate to! And I could
only consider the Lubbock show a triumph. Despite the alien audience
(of course, there were some punkie rockies there as well) a good number
of them seemed to pay attention at some point or another.
©2002, 2012 SPOT/No