Denver, CO: wherein I find shelter from the shitstorm when I meet McKaylee, The Strong Trouperette.
The Strong Trouperette.
Screwed Sometimes Addendum: Later that same day…
More gods throwing more marbles on the ground…almost literally. Charlie twists his knee getting out of the van at the venue; the van at the venue is parked a considerable distance from the venue itself; word from the venue is we can’t bring our truck up to the load-in door; local sound crew/gear and band loading in at same time, not quite enough people to ease the burden of moving a mountain of gear; I’m not sure whether to be angry or grateful when I see McKaylee—the slight 11 year-old daughter of our Denver host—rolling massive, heavy amp racks and speaker stacks up a frustrating incline on a pedestrian-only walkway; the wrangling knee braces and ice, food, lighting, electricity, another @#%!! follow spot that needed pampering; and lastly, due to a glitch at the home office, our greenroom was more of a greenhouse, surrounded as it was by windows onto a part of the lobby and the aforementioned pedestrian walkway. All this—plus the previous 24 hours—in the face of the full house the Denver team manifested, much to our good fortune, and a testament to their hard work.
It seems that this dark Road Diary is a litany of challenges. Maybe the Dark Road is lined with challenges, or paved with them. It certainly seems to be that way. Still, that’s just one side of the endeavour…the challenges often pop up in the mechanics of the proceedings. Even in the SNAFU’d course of the day, this can happen:
Upon seeing McKaylee trying to carry a big side table for the stage plus 2 paper bags full of greenroom stuff, I intercept her and finally introduce myself.
ME: Hey. I’m Gregory. What’s your name?
ME : It’s nice to meet you, McKaylee.
MCKAYLEE: It’s nice to meet you, too, Gregory.
Just those words of welcome, her young voice embroidered with kindness and respect—It’s nice to meet you, too, Gregory—was like coming across a calm eddy in a torrent of adult-onset bullshit.
We redistribute her armload of stuff, put one of the bags and the table atop the last rolling amp rack, and begin the ascent to the venue door. Obviously, cups are falling, the table is falling, the drawer from the table is falling, and eventually I’m swearing.
ME: Sorry for swearing so much, I said. I shouldn’t be swearing.
MCKAYLEE: It’s ok. I hang out with the Grade Eights. They always swear.
Great, I think to myself. I have the temperament of an American schoolchild when I’m under pressure.
I didn’t get to hang out much with McKaylee after that, but I did see her flit about sporting a tour tee shirt. I hope she keeps it for a long time, along with the memory of that day she helped a band stand on its feet and deliver what it had promised to her hometown after a long and trying day.
Our brief meeting sliced open a vein of yearning to hear the voices of my own kids. I’ll be calling them as soon as the van stops rolling. Somewhere in New Mexico, I think.
Salt Lake City, UT, and Denver, CO: wherein we undertake repairs to the van, a show that day, a night drive through the mountains, more driving through a windstorm the next day, a storm of a different sort at the venue etc etc etc…
Imagine that you are travelling through the world, that you are floored with good intent, that you are proceeding as you imagine your ancestors might have done before the times of indenture and servitude, obeying the nap of the world, certain that real tinkers and gypsies would recognize you at once from across the fields and claim you as their errant kin, faithful to the fluster and wild sorrow of your days, faithful to the star chart conjured and cast on the wind blown night of your birth.
These days, that would make of you, among a fistful of other things, a – forgive this technical term from the road warrior lexicon – shit magnet. Do something that raises neither the hackles nor the ire of the regime, you’ll probably cruise through unscathed, no harm meant, no harm done. But call your outfit, oh, Night of Grief andMystery, and a couple of likelihoods might gather.
You might be haunted across three states by a slow leak in a tire, be unnerved by it enough to go to three fix-it places on gig day and flirt with load-in disaster, only to be thwarted by the service sector and then be taken into the slip stream of human kindness by Andy, who does the job for free because you’re so far from home and because the necessary paperwork for it would mess with his joy at getting off work at noon, who with a princely flourish presents you with the culprit, the sheared-off business end of a wood screw.
Or you might pull into a service centre to give the band a pee stop and seek shelter from 60 MPH winds that are prompting the automated road signs to warn you off the road for the next 65 miles for fear of being blown over, and bring your choice of nutritionally questionable snacks to the counter for payment, where Flo is waiting to serve you in a head scarf and a breathing mask, both signs of someone with a wickedly compromised immune system courtesy of chemo or radiation, who in her irrepressible lilt asks where you’re heading (Denver) and why (a show) and for what kind of show (music) and what kind of music (hard to describe, as usual) and is it Dick Clark music or Johnny Cash music? That’s when it hits you that Flo has figured it out from the likely cliff edge of her life, that this gig is a kind of Man-in-Black thing that you can dance to.
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”. We 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.
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.
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.
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
Dubuque, Iowa: wherein gh wonders about old songs in a new life as we saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.
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.