It’s been a long summer. New Orleans to North Carolina to Virginia to Minnesota to Montana to Washington to ALLOFFLIPPIN’CANADA to Vermont to Maine to Cape Breton to New York to New Orleans. Driving. I am mightily tired of driving. Which makes it very silly of me to have chosen to go back to Asheville for my birthday, but alas, I am silly. Anyone will tell you.
We recorded in New York with Papa Vega’s Dream Shadows. Ernie Vega is the Papa in question and he is like a sunbeam in a moustache. He runs sound at the Jalopy Tavern in Brooklyn, and is a fierce mandolin player. He is in my good books, because he has seen me early in the morning when my face is like a discarded hamburger wrapper and my hair is like an ancient mountain range and not made fun of me within my hearing. And because he is charming. It’s that darn moustache.
We were delighted to be in New York, but that crew drinks like it is the last day before wine turns to water. I am not a person who enjoys shots. It seems to disrespect the pickled souls of wheat and cactus. And yet, dear reader, shots I shooted. Because when a beautiful woman comes steaming out of the night and flings her arms around you and yells, “SHOTS!” into your shell-like ear, you cannot refuse. You can, but she will sulk, and nobody wants that.
Four days in a row, I saw the sunrise from the wrong direction. Four days. It was beautiful. I went the wrong way on the Brooklyn Queens Express one of those mornings all unknowing and felt the bottom drop out of my stomach when I saw a sign for Staten Island. I don’t know if you have driven in New York, my dear, but they are psychotic and it takes a million years to go from anywhere to anywhere else. I got off the freeway and using only a compass, common sense and my trusty boyfriend, in a mere hour and a half, managed to navigate the seven miles back to Ridgewood without either weeping or chewing off my hind leg. When we arrived a parking spot shone like a haloed saint right in front of the house where we were staying. This was even more of a miracle in a place where you can circle for lit’rally hours trying to find parking, at which point you sandwich in kind of next to a fire hydrant sixteen blocks from the place you’re trying to go. I turned off the engine and thanked God.
Visiting New York is like a phoenix cleanse. You set fire to yourself. And then you emerge, pale and wrinkled and weak, but with a strange hope beating in your breast.
My beautiful and competent sister Cecily lives in Brooklyn. I got to spend a fair bit of time with her and introduce her to the boy, thus completing living relatives who must find out if they hate him before I marry him. None of them hate him so far, which is nice. Cecily is a nurse, and a philosophy major, and runs a small house and funk club. And she has a nice laugh. You could dislike her if you really tried, but that would just be evidence that you needed a nap and a bun.
We recorded on a Monday night, after a weekend of utter debauchery. I think the recording really captures a feeling of the past and I think it’s because all those early musicians were also badly hungover, most of the time. The sound is like a string band very slowly falling off a cliff. But in tune and in time. A queer balancing act.
We left the next day, when I freaked out like a rat in a soup can and skittered around hysterically packing and muttering, “I have to get out. I have to get out.” Aaron was very accommodating about the whole thing and swept along in my wake, aiding and abetting and telling me kindly that I wasn’t crazy. I have never been so glad to be in New Jersey. Not that there’s anything wrong with New Jersey. I will not participate in the accepted national past time of hating New Jersey, New Jersey always having treated me very decently in the line of diners and people giving me directions at traffic lights.
We drove about ten hours, got to Asheville and went to an old time jam. When? When will I learn that old time bass is not for me? It’s like thinking about an ex-boyfriend when you’re lonely. You think, aw, you know, he wasn’t so bad. We had some good times, didn’t we? You get sentimental. You call him up for a drink and as soon as he walks in the whole vile spectrum of his personality comes flooding back to you, but you have committed to this drink and now you have to sit through it.
No offense, old time.
We hung out with Aaron’s mama, Kathryn, an angry Buddhist who has pulled a remarkable painting ability out of her ass at the age of 59. They only got in one fight and resolved it in a very grown up way. I stood on the sidelines like a nervous father at his daughter’s first ballet recital, waiting to rush in and carry away the fallen, but nobody fell. I was quite proud.
We drove back the next day, after a meatloaf omelet breakfast-lunch and much congenial chit chat. We didn’t make it all the way back, had to stop in a hotel in Alabama. I woke up the next morning to Aaron crawling back into bed with an odd look on his face. It took me, oh, three seconds to go from unconscious to concerned. “What’s wrong? What is it?” A friend of his had been shot in the chest and killed the night before, assailant unknown, for no apparent reason, in a neighbourhood where many of his friends live and where we are now subletting. Not a great neighbourhood, but not a neighbourhood where you expect to die like that. I wish there were no neighbourhoods where you could expect to die like that. We sat on the bed together and held hands. “Should we just turn around? Should we just go back?” New Orleans is a fearsome place with a goth-Disneyland gloss carefully applied to bring in tourists. But for weather, for drugs, for people hurting people, it is a hard place. You walk on thin ground being here. Sometime that same thin ground lets you see the shape of yourself and the world better. Sometimes it breaks you down. Both.
Aaron had a show scheduled, or we might have turned around. We chugged up across Pontchartrain and into the city. Everything was lush and quiet and unusually mellow. It was still viciously hot but it felt good. I had one small panic attack, not for fear of death, but for the oppressive filling quality of the city itself. I drank a drink, talked with friends, hugged people, played music on the street, slithered back into my skin. We ended up subletting from friends, very sane people, as far as musicians go. We have a base camp, we’re playing music, we’re doing okay. We’re about to go to the Balkan Fais Do Do (balkan-cajun dance party) and then the Second Line funeral parade for the man who died. One of the best things about New Orleans is that tragedy does not isolate. It brings us into the streets, to cry together in our glitter and feathers, to dance out death. Mourn together. We’re going to be okay.
If you want to check out Kathryn’s paintings, her website is stillwaters arts.
If you want to check out Papa Vega’s Dream Shadows Orchestra and see my stupid face, the kickstarter page is Papa Vega.