Wherein I wander the roads of the Heintzman grand .
Not Every Dark Road Is Outside Your Door or How I Got Used To Not Knowing.
Not every dark road is outside your door.
Years of chasing songs through an entirely interior landscape has taught me that. It’s a deal at the crossroads every time, and every song feels like it is the last thing I’ll ever write.
Every song begins with what you can see, what you are sure of, and then inevitably slips into the darkness of what you don’t know. The fringe benefit of this kind of contract—one that you willingly enter into over and over— is that you get used to being in the condition of not knowing, used to not being so sure about everything. But it can also clarify and fortify what you do know. And you’re not writing fiction, so you can’t just make shit up and have it stand in for something like the truth…the ‘truth’ here being the actual road, you see.
You stray from the road, you stray from the truth.
Now, you might say that there is something to be gained by straying from the road, and you might be right, but that’s not the deal I made. You stray from the truth and you are, by definition, lying. And what’s to be gained by lying? Usually, it’s power. Sometimes it’s self-preservation. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
So, you strike the deal, stick to the road and not every song is useful, not every song is a gem, but every covenant is kept and that is saying something. The promise to keep going, to keep looking, though you don’t know what you’ll see, if you’ll see, or where you might end up, and all for no guarantee of any return on the investment…that’s a skill that will serve you. In the light and in the dark.
Wherein I wander the chronically unfamiliar .
Estranjero: Not Unlike This Recording
The invitation sounded exotic: bring some gear to a beautiful house in the foothills of the central valley of Oaxaca, Mexico, for a few weeks, work on the new NOGM record, get some back-end tour business done, maybe get some writing time in. I assembled a substantial recording rig meticulously packed in foam for flying and arranged to rent what I couldn’t bring. The kit bag contained instruments I’ve not really used before but was eager to explore…synths and the like. We got down to work quickly, establishing an unnatural rhythm of 12-14 hours a day in a self-imposed quasi-monastic setting with one daily meal.
Along with the promise of focussed work time were sun and warmth, birdsong, the absence of crunching snow underfoot, a view of greenery outside the window and mountains in the distance, and a taste of cultural life away from the tourist centre. All of that appeared, all of it good, all of it exotic. And all of it alienating.
I am a stranger here in Mexico as much as I am a stranger in the landscape of this new record. Mexico seems to me like a wild place, a fever dream version of what I know. There are features that are recognizable but those bits are embedded in the chronically unfamiliar. Not unlike this new recording.
The unfamiliarities shred my ego. Not unlike this recording.
There is green, true, and the occasional explosion of colour from some adventurous blossoms, but much of the landscape is dormant brown, waiting for the rains. Not unlike this recording.
I crossed the border willingly, paid the dues, became the estranjero, and have felt exposed ever since. Not unlike this recording.
We didn’t need to come here to do this, and maybe home would have had its advantages. I hate to admit that I’m a bit undone by how out of phase I have felt down here. But there is an up-side: when you are a stranger in a strange place, you are offered the chance to employ a part of you that gets dulled by comfort and familiarity. Humility becomes a valuable communication tool, as does the ability to be kind, and your ears tune into clues and cadences in noises that sound foreign and this helps discern the way forward. You adapt. Not unlike this recording.
And maybe you discover you don’t need a lot of what you thought you needed, and you clarify what is necessary. And you make something good out of all that apprehension and unease.
Not unlike this recording.
Photo: gh, Oxaca, March 1, 2020
Wherein we end the Nights of Grief & Mystery 2019 Tour.
A packed house. Amongst friends. A good end…or pause, as the case may be.
To my companeros on the road: Adam Bowman, drums; Colleen Hodgson, bass; Lisa Hodgson, keys/vox; Emily Adam and Ana Elia Ramon-Hidalgo AKA “The Choir”; Charlie Scaife, FOH Sound Engineer; Gabe Jenkinson, Justin Bonnet, and Keshira haLev Fife, supreme guides and wranglers on the road and in the venues; and of course Stephen Jenkinson, the “why” of the thing.
One would be hard pressed to find better people with whom to travel a good chunk of the western hemisphere. Thank you for commitment to every Night we played, for your care of the vision, and your patience while being chewed up by the machinery of the tour.
The last thanks (and maybe the most thanks) goes to the least seen: James Nowak, Lead Organizer of NOGM. A mind-numbing mountain of detail, a soul-crushing numbers crunch-fest, an impossible balancing act of pragmatism and dreaming, you were a joy to behold when you crowed with pride at finding mistake after mistake during reconciliations with venues, van rental companies, lighting companies, sound companies, insurance companies, US government agencies, hotel chains (aided immensely by Ana Elia in that task), airlines…the list is endless…and you were an equal joy to behold when a mistake was ours and with humility and grace you owned it and repaired what could be and moved ever forward.
Nothing of what has happened these last 12 months could have happened without you, James. We all are in your debt as much as we were in your care everyday.
With love for you all,
Photo: A. Burashko, from the cheap seats, end of The Night.
Somewhere in California or Arizona. People of The Tarmac.
The Black Mamba II, 70’s style.
Four of us drove from Santa Fe to L.A. over two days while the other five flew. A strange snow/ice storm in Flagstaff on Day 1 was the only taxing part of the trip, and this day had us under blue skies mostly, which was a great way to see this desert for my first time. I was happy to not be in airports and planes and in fine company in the van. “People of The Tarmac” is what we called ourselves.
I neglected to gas up in Needles (where we spent the night) and had to find gas between towns. Enter: this gas station. Just off the interstate on the old and famous/infamous Route 66. Paid DOUBLE for the pleasure of filling up here. That would be $6.49 USD/gallon.
This photo made it all worth it, though. It looks like I’ve been painted into the van, 70’s style, minus the scantily clad, sword-wielding, huge-breasted sci-fi woman.
Vancouver, BC. Crammed in a tiny, gas-guzzling, shitty U-Haul with an uncertain transmission and careening down Interstate 5, I thought, You’re 55, man. What in the hell are you doing?
A bittersweet reality check.
This image was taken about 24 hours after walking off a stage in Portland (and a sublime Night it was…just the two of us on stage, the first time in a few years). The last US show. The intervening hours went something like this:
Van 1 (The Black Mamba II) returned and a U-Haul picked up in Portland;
The gear moved from one truck to the other;
A 6.5 hour solo drive to Vancouver, BC. (a piece of cake after the 10, 12, and 16 hour odysseys undertaken during the tour);
The rented gear accounted for and returned to the backline place;
Extra stuff packed and shipped;
A hotel found;
Another hour drive to the hotel;
Arif The Concierge employed to bring a couple weeks worth of tour tailings up to the room while the U-Haul is dropped off;
U-Haul dropped off a with minutes to spare;
Cab back to hotel;
Grab a chicken club with side salad from hotel bar;
Eat it in the room;
The remaining gear re-distributed in a delicate operation involving 4 pieces of luggage and a luggage weigh scale, which I won’t fly without;
A mound of travel receipts compiled and recorded and tallied, numbers sent to headquarters.
This image is what the end of that 24 hours looks like.
I admit I reserved these tasks for myself and did much the same at the front and back ends of all the legs of this 2019 tour—which, by the way, is kind of turning into a world tour if things keep going like they have been: 2020 is already starting to shape up into something we hadn’t foreseen. I did so not out of a twisted messianic/masochistic inclination but with good intentions: to pull my weight, to be a team player, to ease the way for the others on the road with me…and because I think I may have a touch of the Control Freak in me. I think I may have inherited my mother’s mild OCD.
This last 24-hour chunk brought with it some clarity, though. A bittersweet reality check: I am no longer 32 years old and can no longer operate as though I am. Crammed in a tiny gas guzzling shitty U-Haul with an uncertain transmission and careening down Interstate 5, I thought, You’re 55, man. What in the hell are you doing? These shitty seats are made for young people moving their lives across the country, excited for what lies ahead. Not old men running on fumes, in over their head, and trying to tie up loose ends to get home for another show. Time to get elegant.
Graceful, is what I probably meant. I had more than my share of clunky, graceless moments on tour (just ask those that were in the van when I hit a parked car after the concert in L.A.). I’ve been trying to attend to these tours in a more graceful fashion. I do believe I’ve been getting better at it since we began over 4 years ago, but I’m aiming at a version…a vision…of myself: something like Gene Kelly tiptoeing amidst puddles, or Fred Astaire putting fires out, nimble and graceful.
A man can dream.
Portland, OR, wherein I contemplate the price of “a beautiful drive”.
How to love a place.
One of our hosts here in Portland, OR, calls this “Tank City” and it is the reason they will be moving soon. It is directly across the river, just waiting for an earthquake to have it’s way with whatever mystery is contained in those tanks.
Beautiful shot, though, right?
No, of course it isn’t.
We’ve covered over 4000 miles on this leg, through the Rockies, along the ocean, through the Mojave dessert, through wind storms and snow storms and rain, under blue skies and by the cover of night, under full moons and through inky dark air. All of it “beautiful” except for the tortured sections of that very ground that allowed for our travel and participation in the concerts: the asphalt, the pipelines, the power generation stations and their feeder lines strung up on towers as far as the eye could see, the gas stations, the lakes of California forlornly and shockingly low still allowing recreational boating and surrounded by drought afflicted hills covered with dried trees, planted firewood now, just waiting for a spark. Begging for it, maybe, to put them out of their misery.
Yeah…I understand better now: if you really love a place on this planet, the best way to love it is by staying away.
That we–the band and I–are complicit in this is not lost on me. I don’t know what to do about that. Is it enough that The Nights are my shot at redemption? Probably not.
I’m guessing I will have a lot to answer to when the time comes. Meanwhile, there is a crow yelling at me from the tree I’m sitting under. I’ll try to explain myself, beginning with him…or her.
Santa Fe, NM, wherein I finally play solo trumpet in front of people. Only took 23 years.
The Terrified Trumpeteer.
When I was 32 years old, I came across a wrecked trumpet in a shed. I wrestled a decent note from it and slowly fell in love with the idea of being able to play it. I always thought trumpet was cool…cooler than me, cooler than guitar…and I wanted to be cool. I though maybe learning how to play would help my musicality as I’d always been afraid of playing single note lines on the guitar and the trumpet is notoriously single note-ey. I quickly learned it was a crummy horn and bought a student model. I carried the horn everywhere with me in the car, playing when I could, and made a deal with myself that I’d play in front of people by the time I was 35. Then 40. Then 45. Then 50. I snuck it on a few recordings, into a few shows in places I could hide it.
Last night in Santa Fe, we decided to add a piece of SJ’s at the top of the Night and I came up with the foolish idea I would open the piece with solo horn. This was before we knew the house was standing room only I. A rather large theatre. In the dressing room, I explained my idea to SJ and attempted to play what I had in mind, bleating and squeaking all over the place, a comical sound. We broke up laughing and I said, “Maybe this is a bad idea…”
After the laughter died down, Stephen said, “No man, I think it’s great! It’s brave.”
I counted my blessings to be working with a man that valued that kind of bravery at the risk of a very awkward couple of minutes in front of a packed house and the derailment of a good story the trumpet was trying to set up. Yes, I counted my blessings and privately to rued the day I ever thought I could play in front of people. When you get nervous singing, you can still breathe through it. When you get nervous playing guitar, you can still breathe through it. When you get nervous playing trumpet, well…you are too busy breathing through the trumpet and there is no place to calm your breath. To boot, your nervousness shows up in your lips (embouchure, it is called) and your lips are doing almost all the work. Trumpet is risky business.
This photo was snapped by drummer Adam Bowman minutes before going on stage. What you see here is a terrified non-trumpet playing man going over in his mind how he will communicate to Stephen on stage he is bailing from playing trumpet.
In the end, I didn’t bail. It wasn’t perfect (like it is when I play alone in the car or studio) but it was brave, I guess. Maybe next time it’ll be perfect. If there is a next time.