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The Dark Road Diary: Part 15

Spokane, WA: wherein we wake up in one country, almost don’t get into the next country, and prevail in a 105 year old theatre in a town we’ve never played.


The Night that almost wasn’t.

Resilience. I know…if you’ve been reading any of these Dark Road things, you’ll know that word has popped up a lot. 

It’s amazing to me that we wake up in the morning (assuming you do wake up) staring down the barrel of the day and have no idea whatsoever what is gunning for us or who will love us on the way to getting on the other side of the next gig, which is all I want to do: just let me get on the other side of the next gig, please.

Yesterday, a simple clerical error on Charlie’s visa had us detained at the border crossing with the likelihood of having to leave him behind…a heart-breaking prospect…and the rest of us being held until he was back in Canada. This is what I learned: mountains are immovable, that is true, but mountains are scalable. Once you get over the shock of the immovability of the thing, you can set yourself to climbing. Sometimes you reach for a handhold you know is there, sometimes you’re hoping your hand and foot finds a purchase. Sometimes you choose the wrong path and have to double back. There is a lot of swearing, apparently (though I wasn’t aware that I was dropping F-bombs all over the tiny waiting room of Border and Customs.) You pause, breathe, and make your next move in the general direction of “up”. 

In this case, the “next move up” was a gentle suggestion they contact the office responsible for the error. US border and customs people aren’t really into taking suggestions, but this person did…a little reluctantly, maybe…so all the more credit to that person. All breaths held as we danced delicately around ignoring our companeros in a second car pulling up not 5 feet from the little room the rest of us were in, involved in their own mountain drama, and finally an exhale watching them pull ahead and disappear down the road. 

It was never guaranteed we would get to the top of the mountain, but we did. Charlie got a new visa. We were all quiet in the van until SJ spoke about the consequence of words, of speaking aloud, and the root of the word “fate”. On the dddWe pulled into a weird casino/ rest stop to gather ourselves and grab a bit of food, late for the load-in now. Someone yelled to me as we were walking out of the place: in his hand an envelope of cash I’d left in the bathroom. I looked at his hand, looked at his face, and back to his hand as it dawned on me what he was holding out to me. I took the envelope, held his eyes, shook his hand slowly, and assumed he knew how grateful I was. Didn’t say a word…neither of us.

The gig in Spokane had its challenges from the very beginning, and narrowly avoided being cancelled altogether.  No one could have seen what was gunning for us, nor could we see how we would be loved through to the other side. But we were. The venue was great, the people who wrangled the gig on the ground there were great, the pinch-hitter host brought in at the 11th hour was great, even the hotel was great. And the crowd was great, dancing in the aisles and with us all the way.

We were pretty good, too.

gh



The Dark Road Diary: Part 14

Nelson, BC: wherein we bury a part of the Night and make our way to the US for the last time this year.


Calling In The Saints and RIP Hoskins’ speechifying.

If I have my wits about me (and mostly I don’t) I give my camera to Charlie to snap a couple photographs for me from his vantage point during the proceedings and I did this last night in Nelson,BC. Back in the hotel room after the show, I was thumbing through some of these pics and stopped short at this one. 

We start every Night with what we privately call “The Invocation”. It is exactly what the word implies, but its proper title is “Calling In The Saints”. This shot is from the beginning of the Night: Lisa, Emily, Ana Elia, and Colleen singing a very old song, the rest of us in the room listening to this overture to the invocation, to calling in the saints.

Every night we get to play is another chance for me to get some things right. After the refreshing dip back into the songs and sounds in Langley on the other side of a couple weeks off, last night found me floundering when it came time to play the trumpet and take a turn at the mic to talk about a new song. This “speechifying “ has been challenging, and the band has been patient (the band has also been patient with my trumpet “playing”, but I’m not ready to give that up quite yet). But it’s clear I’m not built for talking, not in the way that is being asked of me. The guitar and singing lets me leave a part of me behind, but the talking drags me back into my muddled brain. So, no more.

You will thank me later.



The Dark Road Diary: Part 13

Langley, BC: wherein we reconvene for the final leg of this tour.


When we see the end.

The view through the smoked glass window in the back of The Black Mamba 2 (what I call the current wheels carrying us) as we leave Langley, BC, headed for Nelson and then the US. And then the end of the tour.

It had only been 2 and a half weeks since we played in Minneapolis, but the consensus in the green room was that it had felt longer. We had obviously all missed being in the thrall of the the thing, and I must say it showed up for us on stage. It was a good Night. The more I tour like this, the more I come to understand that we essentially playfor free. It’s the travel and all the out-front work that we get paid for. That’s the work of it. It’s no secret, and it’s not news to you, probably, but the time on stage is the payoff.

To the good people who filled the hall in Langley, the good people who wrangled the whole thing for their town, and the good people who gave us their backs and arms and food and help of all kind: thank you. Your presence makes all the in-between worth it. 



The Dark Road Diary: Part 12

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: wherein we confront all manner of things on the way to this gem of a moment near the end of the Night’s proceedings. The final Tour Trailer for this tour. All it is missing is an explosion.


But all we have is this.

“If we could , you know we would:
We’d accompany each of you to your door this evening.

We’d see to it that the key still worked,
that the door still opened
that it was still your house.

We’d close the door behind you but before we did,
with your kind permission,
we would kiss our lips,
kiss you on the head,
and bless you.

But all we have is this.”

SJ, Pittsburgh, NOGM, Oct 15 2019



The Dark Road Diary: Part 11

Dubuque, Iowa: wherein gh wonders about old songs in a new life as we saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.


Crucible

So, you write a song for the right reasons, you record it, and give it as many chances at a “meaningful life” as you can. But you can’t control outcomes, so the songs and the recordings float out there in the wide, wide world beyond your reach and influence. Best to leave them alone and to practice letting go.

Maybe one day –unknown to you– they make their way into someone’s life and weave themselves into a story not of your making. They adapt and transform, and maybe you hear about it in an electronic note or a handwritten letter, or a voice from a crowd or a chat after a concert. Suddenly, this old thing has a new meaning and you stand there amazed by it, humbled by it, moved by it, mystified by it, grateful to it.

I’ve been wondering lately why I haven’t been rushing to play solo shows, why I’ve thrown my lot in so emphatically with Nights of Grief & Mystery for the time being: I think it is because the Nights give the songs a container to be in, a context where they mingle with other elements and undergo some kind of alchemical transformation, become a part of something unseen when I wrote them. The collaboration has us going through my song catalog to see ‘what-might-fit-where’ in the Night, and so some songs get a new lease on life while others see the light of day and get put tenderly away again because, though it is clear there is a good line or two, they don’t quite stand on their feet when it comes to carrying a heavy load. There are more of these than I care to admit, but I’m grateful to those songs, too. 

The Nights run hot…what drives them has nothing to do with entertainment and everything to do with everything that is not distraction. Thus, the ego is burned away from the songs over and over again and all that is left is the ineffable intention I had when I wrote them. Sometimes the song and the singer are left standing. Sometimes they are cinders.

Turns out Nights of Grief & Mystery is a crucible.

gh



The Dark Road Diary: Part 10

Wherein we keep you apprised of making our way down the dark roads and dark, dark woods on our saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.


Humility on The Dark Road

In a truck stop in Marion, Illinois, just north of Clarkesville—the Clarkesville that the last train goes to, I think— we pulled into a no parking zone to have a “picnic”. This is a code word for “let’s make a meal from the green room food we didn’t eat last night.” In this case, last night’s green room was in Nashville and the leftovers consisted of an amazing fish stew,  Mulligatawny soup and some apples. One or two of us crossed the parking lot to the fast food joint that was there, but the rest dug in, standing huddled around the food bin, trying to stay out of the substantial wind that had been blowing all day.

Across the same parking lot came a man, his eyes locked on us and our van and trailer, and I was sure he was coming to A) tell us to move the illegally parked van/trailer or B) to get an autograph from Willie Nelson (happens in airports all the time). 

He heads straight for Stephen and says, “I was at your show in Nashville last night and had to say thank you.” Stunned us all. More than 200 miles from last nights’ show, in a no-frills truck stop, this man explains he is a palliative care nurse, that he lives and works in Chicago, and that he drove 4 and a half hours to come see The Night in an intimate theater in Nashville. “I just couldn’t believe my eyes when you pulled up…you and this fella, “ he said throwing his head towards me. “Everyone who works in my field should see this show.” 

In a truck stop on I 64 under a threatening sky, with a serious accident unfolding just ahead that will close down the interstate and change the lives of those involved (unknown to us as we huddle around the food bin) and more hours than we counted on to get to the next hotel, I was reminded why you never hold back when playing for people.

Nine hours on the road to see us…almost 1000 miles…with no clear expectations or promises of what the evening would be. 

That is humbling.

gh


The Dark Road Diary: Part 9

Wherein we keep you apprised of making our way down the dark roads and dark, dark woods on our saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.


Wrestling Old Ghosts

Theater 80, NYC

Sunday

New York City: You write those three words down, in that order, and there’s a feeling of having written a tight, picaresque novella. They have that weight, no doubt. They do for me, and I don’t favour the place. It has always been too much for me, all at once. But to play there: I’ll admit it on behalf of the band, was and remains a BIG FRIGGING DEAL. This is largely because I have a strong sense that everyone there HAS SEEN IT ALL, BABY, SEVENTEEN TIMES. 
So, if at the end of one of these most unlikely of evenings, undertaken in a speakeasy of previous times/now an off off Broadway atmospheric and odoriferous black box owned and operated by what is surely a bejeweled, silver cane-wielding aristocrat of a failed city state of yesteryear, the crowd’s generosity of spirit alive in their laughter, alive in their silences rises, and they rise en masse to bless you as you take leave of them … well, then, it seems you have truly stood and delivered, and served the Muses their portion, and kept to the covenantal jangle of the bardic road life.
And we shook that monkey of last year’s NYC audio debacle off our backs. Mercy prevailed.

Inside This is Red, Pittsburgh, PA

Tuesday

Pittsburgh: An eight hour bus ride down the highway to a lapsed and former Slavic Cathedral (I know. We did put ‘NO CHURCHES’ in the contract. Nobody seems to read the fine print. Myself included.), now one of the craziest, most seductive and tricked out high tech venues I’ve ever heard tell of. A three story high vaulted mahogany ceiling, Byzantine tiles set in the walls, spectacular Oaxacan-style brickwork, moody lighting, a green room where the priest once prepared for mass. A few ghosts from the Old World, wondering what became of their heirs. Grief and Mystery, alright.
Now, perhaps you’ve made rash but entirely necessary promises to yourself as your days have gone by. Vows, even. And if you lived through the eighties, those promises might have included something like this: “No matter what, I’ll never do a music video. Never, no matter what.” If you did, we have that in common. I had no reason to make such a vow, no lifestyle choice, no skill that would ever lift that strange vow to the realm of possibility or likelihood. But in truth, back in the day, I’d watched enough of those crude novelties – added up, whole days of my lifetime that I’ll never get back – that the vow at least made some kind of moral or artistic sense.
So you know what I’m going to tell you now. An hour before show time last night, the Grief and Mystery ensemble is on stage for a three-camera video shoot of various takes on what we do. At first it seemed like a record, a kind of archive thing, like recording a live show. But there was just enough ‘lights/camera/action’ to the business to give me the bends, morally or artistically speaking. Mr. Hoskins (‘Hoss’, we might come to call him), the dervish of detail in such moments, drove the film crew to fits of precision, focus and unwavering technical prowess, himself calling for retake after retake. With patrons for the evening’s show already lining up outside and looking through the stained glass for a glimpse of the shenanigans, the band hit their mark. They were tight, model musical professionals. I blew my lines several times, ludicrous because I wrote and crafted all of them some years ago, and the order and the cadence of them were mine, and barring neurodegenerative disarray should have come to me easily. But I’m no actor. That much self understanding was renewed.

Fifty minutes later its time for ‘Ladies and Gentlemen …’, and we reach into the mortal depths once more, and we believe in these strange nights. And we earn our keep. Tears and applause enough, and enough ribaldry from the Steel City crowd, and three hours later weare sipping smokey whiskey with the owners and the local organizers in the emptied hall, all of us beginning to lie with alarming and escalating confidence about the epic edges of our lives, and for a while, as the Old Man, the patron saint of this operation unawares, so properly put it: 
The whole damn place goes crazy twice. And its once for the devil. And its once for Christ.

SJ