Ever grow watermelons or cucumbers? If so, you will know what I'm talking about. You go out and look at the vines and there's no fruit. You look the next day and suddenly there's a full size watermelon or a foot long cucumber just sitting there. Where did it come from? Yesterday there was no baby cucumber or wee watermelon, you're sure of it. How did that happen?
Here's my favorite quote about politics:
"I think of voting as a chess move, not a valentine." -- Rebecca Solnit
Once you let go of falling in love with politicians, and think instead of who is strategically most likely to succeed in making your values and goals a reality, life gets so much simpler. You aren't so shocked when politicians compromise, or when they are arrogant or timid or fallible. It takes a certain weird kind of ego to run for office in the first place. A healthy skepticism and an attitude of "what are you likely to do for the issues I care about" is called for.
In love, I recommend giving your whole heart, even if it might be broken. In politics, I don't.Read more
I wrote this in 2009, after I got home from the FAR-West Music Conference. Facebook just reminded me of it. Thought I'd share.
It's a physical thing: kind of down my throat and around my chest. It's a profoundly satisfied, joyous, relaxed-yet-energized feeling. There's humor to it. I feel funnier than usual and pretty and worthy and kind of badass. It happens most often in rehearsal, or, as it did this weekend, at a late night jam. It happens the whole week when I'm recording in Austin with Mark. It involves connecting with other musician(s) in a comfortable, inspired way. I go out on a limb.
My dad was dying. I was driving up to Santa Barbara every day to see him. And we had these crickets in the house. I would look down from my bed and see three or four of the little guys near my closet. They would just appear all of a sudden; I don’t know where they were getting in. They didn’t move much. They just sat there in a small constellation, and in the morning they’d be gone.
My dad died. A few days later, the crickets disappeared.
Picture a warmly lit room. Wood walls. A couple of rugs on the floor. A room that was once a garage in a rural Texas house, on a quiet highway way down south of Austin, on the road to San Antonio. Woods behind.
If a bunch of Colorado hippie musicians move into an old house, and some of them do framing and finish carpentry to pay the bills, a garage looks like a place you could drywall and make a practice room. That's exactly what happens here.
The wall between the garage and the rest of the house is filled with phone books and recording magazines, for soundproofing. Two doors with a gap between them go in at the top of the steps. Frame it, enclose it, paint it.Read more
Though I love The Clash and I can listen all day to Joe Strummer shout about the Sandinistas, in general the records that most affect me are personal. Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, Ani DiFranco’s Dilate and Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions all tell larger stories: about American economic bleakness in the 80s, or the arc of a doomed relationship, or the struggle to live and love while navigating systemic inequality.
But they do it by getting very personal, either in confessional lyrics or through the use of characters, which humanizes larger issues and makes them relatable. I’m nowhere near as moved by a set of statistics about employment losses in the rust belt caused by outsourcing as I am by a Springsteen song about one dude spiraling into alcoholism and crime after his job disappears.
“Well they closed down the auto plant in Mahwah late last month
Ralph went out lookin' for a job, but he couldn't find none
He came home too drunk from mixin' Tanqueray and wine
He got a gun, shot a night clerk, now they call him Johnny 99”
On top of being emotionally compelling, these albums are all just freaking awesome records. They are catchy and sad and triumphant and musically wonderful.
That’s the bar I’m striving for with my new album. It’s a high bar.
This journal/blog I'm keeping right now is mostly about my upcoming album and the performance that goes with it. But today I want to talk about an album by someone else -- my friend Tara Jeffery. Helping bring her first record into the world is a joyous parallel track.
Tara and I really bonded in the mid-80s when she rented a room from my dad in a house on Meadowbrook Drive he was paying for with Ecstasy money. She had style: long black hair, colorful jewelry, good taste in music. She sang at Charlie’s By The Sea. We went to the same high school, but she was a few years ahead of me. She was a massage therapist and, to my eyes, a fully functional grown up. I was eighteen with no idea what I was doing with myself except that it somehow involved writing songs. She and I would smoke my dad’s Benson & Hedges Menthols in the living room and whine together. It was so satisfying.Read more
I started this long ago. Well, it seems like so long ago, last early Spring, thinking I needed to write something - a record or something. That was my first thought when the pandemic started. Make use of it.
But I was stuck - stuck in a way I'd never felt stuck before.
I thought, "I'll write that horror movie." So I bought a bunch of books related to the subject but it fairly quickly began to look like a dead end, or not my story to tell.
Then I thought, "I need a metaphor. I'm writing a musical."
So I found a great metaphor, and went down that path. It was about the fire. Thinking back, I guess I started the musical before the shutdown, but as the pandemic raged on I realized a local brush fire, no matter how devastating, was being eclipsed.
So I did what works best for me. I carved out a few days and drove away.
- You have to be young.
- You have to already be famous.
- You have to be in New York.
- You have to be in the Theatre.
- You have to be in the Academy.
- You have to be connected.
- You have to have a band.
- You have to know Stephen Colbert.
- You have to have a budget.
- You have to be someone else.
- You have to have played at Largo.
The rule I most want to break is the one that says I have to do it by myself. Some people surround themselves with collaborators, and I do that, but at the core it's just me, I'll do it, I got it, don't worry about me, I'm fine.