Dark Road Diary, Part 33: John of the Laundromat

John of The Laundromat

It’s hard to know what an audience at A Night is thinking…or feeling. For one, they aren’t really an audience, they’re unintentional allies in a ceremony. They don’t seem to know it, but we do. Beyond the applause and standing O’s, there is the ever foggy sense of “are they with us?” as we spin the kind of glass that we do. No suspension of disbelief is required for this kind of evening. The deal we are trying to make with them is a different one altogether. If there is good will in the building, we can generally pick up on it, but it’s not always clear.

The morning after the Moab Night in front of a full house – which was a free event sponsored by a local hospice organization – I’m doing laundry in the local laundromat. As I finish emptying the dryer, I turn to find an older gentleman a foot away, staring at me.

“I saw you last night,” he says. “It was a wonderful event. I have a few questions for you, if you have the time.”

Always an iffy proposition, and more SJ’s territory than mine, but I’m curious so I figure, what the hell.

“Sure.”

He asks about why we don’t have an intermission, about the set list, a couple other things, and I do my best to answer as I fold my laundry.

Then he asks, “What did you think of the audience?”

That was a stumper. Besides the cell phones going off despite the plea to have them silenced and the full-blown conversation from a deep-voiced individual during the first 10 minutes (dealt with A LOT more grace by SJ than I am capable of), there was the ever present aforementioned foggy sense of just whose side they were on.

I relay this as best as I can, he listens thoughtfully, and almost like a plea he says, “I thought they were with you the whole night, attentive and completely riveted.”

Huh. “Well, I’m glad to hear that,” I manage. He gives me a few tips on what to see around the area before I leave for Colorado (which I took him up on…thanks, John), we say our polite goodbyes and I head out the door into the Moab heat with my folded laundry. 

If you ever find yourself walking a tight rope in front of a crowd that no one has asked you to walk, go to a laundromat the next morning. You might find out how you did. No matter what you thought at the time.

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Sept 19, 2022, Boulder, Colorado.

Dark Road Diary, Part 31: Older

I am 53 years old.

Somewhere on the Australian coast in 2017, SJ and I sit watching a group of young people cavorting on the beach we share. I look down at my bloated self and complain about the passage of time, yearning for the form and function of youth.

“That shit is gone,” SJ says, “and it ain’t coming back.” Spoken like a man who knows.

I am 56 years old.

During a 60 Second Answer session I remind SJ of the beach, of the gone-ness of youth.

“What takes its’ place, then?” I ask.

“If you’re lucky, nothing at all,” he tells me. “If you work your ass off, nothing takes its place. It’s a BIG thing in life: Going, going, gone…but not everything goes at once, so you’ve no obligation to scramble to try to reassemble all the parts you started with. You’ve got fewer, you’re lucky. It’s less to carry around. The room for manoeuvering increases the less you’re bound to of the stuff you used to understand yourself to be.”

I am 58 years old.

Every night on stage on this tour is a chance for me to be fully that age, but it’s not granted as a guarantee. Often, the first notes I play are like a key that unlocks the door behind which is every self-immolating thought, every failure I’ve stored away during the run up to the gig, and they pour through. And there I am, taking a public shower under a torrent of insecurity. It’s a precarious moment, and one would think, at my age and with as much time in as I’ve had in the scenario, I’d have a sure fire way of handling it. 

I don’t. I throw myself on the mercy of the moment. Hardly a sure fire way of doing anything, a kind of reactivity of a 15 year old.

We talk about this on the drive from Salt Lake City to Moab, Utah, where we will play tonight. As we talk, the landscape starts to be accompanied by the red sandstone monoliths the area is renowned for. Older is in the truck with me, and older is surrounding me outside.

Would that I have all I need to remind me to manoeuvre tonight.

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Darr Road Diary, Part 32: Plugged Out

The first thing we do after walking on to stage is plug into our in-ears monitors. The price of being able to hear ourselves in glorious clarity is not being able to hear the gathered crowd, or us talking to each other off-mic. By plugging into the system, we unplug from the world. The irony is not lost.

“Blame Bowman,” SJ says.  It’s true…it’s all drummer Adam Bowman’s fault. It was a sure fire way to make the stage experience more musical for us, he said. It cut way down on sound check time, and it meant we didn’t have to carry expensive and heavy wedges around. All true and we are grateful for his expertise.

But the isolation is utterly complete. It’s a weird first move to make on stage. And, as with any added bit of tech, it’s another thing that can go awry, as happened in Boise. Stephen’s in-ears feed completely disappeared somewhere between soundcheck and the downbeat of the Night.

“I’ve got nothing…” Stephen managed to tell me. Under the gaze of the watching crowd, I tried twisting a few virtual knobs and buttons, still nothing. Unable to fix the problem, I basically threw him under the bus. 

“Looks like you’re going old, old school, man,” I said on mic.

And he did, the whole Night long. He rose…he more than rose…to the challenge. As one person wrote in the next day, “Tears filled my eyes many times and overflowed …such an enlightening and soul touching evening…”

Ah, adversity: the faithful companion of every Night.

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Photo Credit:

Dark Road Diary, Part 29: Gig Mechanics

Waiting side stage, Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, Ireland. Photo: Adam Bowman

The arrow doesn’t know
The target or the bow
It’s born in air
Dangerously unaware.

It flies a faithful arc
Through skies light and dark
No promise it finds its’ mark
But it flies anyway.

From “Arrow” ©2022, Gregory Hoskins

Let’s say you have a good notion of what you’re supposed to be doing with your life — some use the term “a calling”, I don’t — and let’s say that you’re lucky enough to have been supported in a myriad of mysterious ways to do that thing. Fine. Now let’s say that because it has the thumbprint of a certain kind of meant-to-be-ness, you find yourself with one foot in the ethereal world of assignment and the other in the more recognizable grind of keeping up your end of the day-to-day deal: a collection indescribable tasks I’ve come to call the Gig Mechanics, the tending to the invisible parts of the machine that allows the Gig to exist.

How you relate to the Gig Mechanics is a choice, somewhat based on your natural inclinations towards detail. Personally, I see it as a dance. Thing is, I’m not a very good dancer. I often end up looking like someone in a dance marathon who has hung in to the bitter end, like a barely-there shell of a person, a ghost leaning on an unfortunate partner. It isn’t pretty.

Get close to someone who is in the thick and thrall of such an endeavour and you are certain to see someone with all the beauty scrubbed away, all the elegance, grace, and assuredness so readily seen from a distance now burned or bleached off of them. Recently, I passed through UK Customs in Heathrow and caught a glimpse of myself in the photo that is snapped as you pass through an e-gate. It was shocking. I looked like I’d been dragged behind the plane across the Atlantic, the toll of the pandemic years’ worth of record making and film making and finally prepping for our tour in the UK and Ireland as the world lurched awkwardly out of plague mode resulting in a mountain of worrying and second-guessing every plan…all of it in plain view in that official photo. I’m not complaining (as my friend SJ says) I’m remembering.

But it was a rewarding tour, by most accounts. No one got Covid; the response from the intrepid folk who helped and /or attended confirmed that there is still a place for something called a Night of Grief & Mystery; and we sold out 8 of our 10 Nights. Mind you, we did those 10 Nights in 11 days, thus this post you are reading. Here are a few things I learned:

  1. 10 gigs in 11 nights isn’t heroic or quixotic. It’s stupid.
  2. Booking a venue based on a picture from the internet is playing sonic russian roulette.
  3. You can lean on people, but lean too hard and they will understandably crack.
  4. Weather systems in a van are like those on the coast: they change every five minutes.
  5. Eating a burger in a gas station parking lot after midnight can be a life affirming thing.
  6. While the previous statement is true, having nutritious food at the gig would be nothing less than an act of love. I seem to have forgotten this.
  7. Sometimes you need to remind yourself that you are part of a ceremony, not a concert performance.
  8. It could be that The Hands that guide these things occasionally see your blind spots and provide a Justin Bonnet (road wrangler) or a Charlie Scaife (sound man) to help smooth the way.

To the band – Lisa Hodgson, Colleen Hodgson, Adam Bowman – and to my compañero SJ, a thousand apologies for the pace, a deep bow for being unwitting but willing partners in the awkward dance with the Gig Mechanics, and a thousand thanks for the glimpse into the possibilities. 

This could be good.

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Found Footage is Useful In A War

A few years ago, I got a nice note from a young man who wanted to let me know that, at least for a while, some songs I wrote meant something to him. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but that was the gist. He concluded the letter with “If you ever wanted to fly in a warbird, I’m a pilot, and I fly vintage warbirds and I’d be happy to take you up.” Outside of Star Trek, I’d never heard the word warbird used, it had dangerous overtones and I’m not great with heights, so I politely declined. Then I thought about it: when is an offer like that going to come around again? I told him I’d reconsidered and, on a slightly stormy day at the end of a summer, I rode out there to a hangar that sure enough housed old combat planes. We went up a couple of times in different planes and I took a few videos, paranoid I’d drop my phone. We did one run with a mate of his, part of a team that flew formation drills—that means another plane sharing the sky with you almost close enough that you could jump from one wing to the other. Completely incomprehensible. I survived and managed to keep my diner breakfast down, and am forever grateful for the adventure.

This vid is made from some of that footage, along with a bunch of other video files that have lingered on various drives of mine for years. I enjoy tinkering with movie images, and I make no claim at being any good at it. What I find intriguing is being able to use these moving artifacts of my life as grist for the mill, and in that way, these little vids I have been making are much like the songs I write.

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The Wide Shot of Truth

Árneshreppur, Iceland. Photo by Colleen Hodgson

Early on, Stephen described what we did on stage in the US and Australia as “carving in the air”. We’d walk on to a silent stage, just the two of us, with no idea what we’re going to do, so his description of what followed is bang on. We still walk on to silent stages, and I’ve come to describe the current edition of NOGM -— which boasts 7 people on stage— as “sauntering on a tightrope.”

We are always on the tightrope on this tour, and any unbalanced movement feels like jeopardy. I suppose there is a pressure to “know things” on a tour like this. Then again, for most of the last decade I’ve been thinking there comes a time in life that one is invited to plant a flag in what they’ve become certain of, even if it seems dangerous —as it does these days —to know things. If you’ve been lucky enough to have lived a life that has brought you into contact with vulnerability (your own and that of others) then you might not screw this up.

Standing in what you know doesn’t look anything like power. Quite the opposite. It leads to more vulnerability. It can lead to a lot of “not knowing”. That’s why it’s not for the faint of heart.

Or politicians. Or celebrities.

I’m trying to learn to not be faint of heart. Useful in a war and all that.

The wide shot of Truth.

Good thing I’m not alone in the learning.

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Back on the dark road to the dark, dark woods.

Friends are forged on the dark road headed out of town, and so we head there again, beginning on June 4, 2019 in Portsmouth, UK.

MAP and thing

A quick note from the factory floor here.

There are a lot of things that slay me about touring with Nights of Grief & Mystery, but few more so than what can land on the table when wrestling with language to properly describe the thing. We seem to be learning about “what this is” as we go along. In the beginning, we were happy to admit that we didn’t know and were more likely to be able to tell you a whole lot of “what it isn’t”. The more we travelled with The Nights, though, the more we understood that simply saying “what it isn’t” was, in fact, a cop-out. Follow?

So here’s our latest understanding:

We have an idea where the monsters are. That’s where we’re headed.

You can read the full new blurb at the new nightsofgriefandmystery.com landing page.

The tour will Take us to 28 cities in the UK and North America for 32…shows?Performances? Nights, is what I prefer to call them.
Or 32 chances to get it right. We know what “it” is.

That dark road thing?
That image is more than an image. That is what we do. That is our devotional act. And those monsters? Probably not what you expecting. That’s another thing that slays me about the Nights: mostly they are everything you wouldn’t expect.

See you out there.

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Lingering with Marc Chagall’s Father

A detail from Father, by Marc Chagall, 1921.

I went to the Louvre once.  It was 1987.  I was 23.  I was on a belated honeymoon trip.  I ate french fries on the patio while playing Crazy Eights, mistakenly sat on a Louis the XIV chair and set off the alarm, and lined up to see the Mona Lisa only to bail on the lineup and take pictures of people looking at the Mona Lisa instead.

I’m not very good in museums.  I become super self-conscious in crowds, and in art galleries I break into a sweat under the pressure of liking what I’m seeing, or the expectation of my having an intelligent opinion because, apparently, it is not enough to like a painting, to be intrigued or moved by it:  you have to know why and be able to tell your mates…and anyone else in earshot…if you talk loud enough.

A couple weeks ago, L & I were in Montreal and took in the Chagall exhibit at the Musee Des Beaux Arts.  It was near the end of the exhibit’s run and the place was packed.  People moved from room to room like sheep and I was a sweaty mess of nerves within a few minutes but I discovered something important:  I enjoy seeing paintings when I can get up close…really up close.  Like sitting in the Louis the XIV chair kind of close.

I found a painting that didn’t have a crowd gathered around it…a portrait Chagall had done of his father (he did a few, I think).  With my nose a few inches away from it, I took my time looking at the canvas without the feeling of 50 pairs of eyes drilling into my back.

ridges

I saw ridges– the pressure exerted, all the places the painter decided to stop moving the brush, the exact moments his brain signaled the muscles in his arm, wrist, and fingers to ease up or bear down or change direction.  Up close, the thing was a study in intention, force, and trust. Micro movements and decisions made on some sub-existent level.  The place where what is invited and what actually appears seem to work it out for the greater good, all caught in oil and pigment a few inches from my nose.  Looking at it like this allowed me to relate to the humanity of the painting, and of the painter.  I appreciated how he painted those he loved, and that he painted himself, too.

I lasted longer than I thought in the gallery, but will confess we did spend a good portion of time in the Kids Chagall Colour Zone playing with puppets.  Well, one puppet.  A donkey puppet.  I loved that puppet.

donkey_small

 

Vain + Alone: The heart broken a thousand times, reassembled a thousand and one.

Vain & Alone, December 25, 2015. Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.
Vain & Alone, December 25, 2015. Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.


With my father hovering somewhere between worlds, I am firmly Vain but somewhere between Alone and not.

These were days infused with a kind of poetry that crushed us,
days burdened by an unbearable beauty…
that broke the heart a thousand times and reassembled it a thousand and one.
These were days when I was not much of a father to my children,
not much of a lover to my wife, not much of a friend to the few friends I have.
Only a son in service to his father.
In return, he told me with scathing honesty what he saw in me,
and located that nurturing part of me I’d thought long dead.

I’ve held on to this photo for a bit, unsure of it, not trusting its’ origins.
But in the life I have created for myself,
these kind of moments are all I have to weave into the work I do.
So, I wonder aloud here at what this man gave with his dying
to his wife, his children, his grandchildren, and his friends:
shattering the inane noise of the world for us with his ragged breath,
lubricating this arid desert of a place
with tears that leaked from his eyes in his final moments,
and finally binding us together with his absence…

This is the gift he gave us:  how it could be when it is our time to die.

The poetry, the heartache, the laughter, the songs,
the courage, the fear, the healing,
the forgiveness, the goodbye, the wrenching loveliness of it all—
this is what we can give to our own sons and daughters, lovers and friends.

I was alone in the house when I self-consciously set up the phone to capture singing a song to him, a song we had crafted together.  It was a song that came to be when he declared his pride in what I did for a living even though, as a father, it worried him to no end.  He was firm in the pride he felt but asked if I couldn’t at least write something “light”— not my strong suit, to be sure.  So, we spoke of his great love for my mother, and his growing love for the simple beauty he would see outside the window — the trees, the sky, the sun, the birds — that left him speechless and dumbfounded as to why the whole world seemed not to notice.  A song was woven together over time.

On this night, I sang it to him as I had done dozens of times in the previous weeks (along with his favourite cowboy tunes and a few from the hit parade he used to sing to us as kids) but in a self-conscious way, too aware of the camera, wondering what kind of man would film himself like this? as I sang looking down on his unmoving body.

When I stumbled into the bridge,
and the line “Love comes for you”,
he surfaced and opened his eyes to me,
raising his arm slowly to rest his hand on my forearm.
I continued picking through the solo
and at the first line of the last chorus, “Mary, Mary, in the yard”
he chuckled, then slipped back to where he’d come from, gliding out on
“Through the trees the sunlight slips/
To steal a kiss from Mary’s lips.”

This photo, taken after I put the guitar down,
is less a record of my singing to him
and more that of a son who owed his father everything,
learning here how to say goodbye,
and deeper in debt
when all was said and done.

Would that it could be this way for everyone who reads this.

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