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.

gh
Sept 19, 2022, Boulder, Colorado.

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.

gh

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.

gh

Photo Credit:

“If my car was clean, I could come and get you.”

What kind of a world is it when… is a phrase often invoked in the face of a once-and-supposed good thing gone bad, the corruption of a formally (seemingly) innocent act, a kindness that gets dissected to see what cancer really lays beneath, or a eulogy for choices once easy now hamstrung by doubt.

Waiting out a layover in Chicago’s O’Hare airport en route to Boise, Idaho, I thought it’d prudent to call ahead to the hotel to let them know we’d be checking in late. The conversation with Jane the Hotel Clerk was standard front desk fare, but it veered suddenly when I inquired about an airport shuttle and was informed the hotel had none.

“If my car was clean, I could come and get you,” says the young voice on the other end of the line. I stumble a bit and asked her to repeat, stammering that it was a kind offer but way out of the line of duty “and, anyway, we are musicians with a lot of gear.”

“We’ll work it out,” she says and I find myself on the receiving end of a plan that includes a shift ending, a car cleaning, a co-worker, a plea not to tell anybody about the offer, and an exchange of cell numbers.

Should I have been so thrown? It was a small-town kindness, but is Boise a small town? Is it kind? One stranger offers another stranger a ride—there’s  something glorious there, and some shadowy thing right behind the glory. Optics, optics, optics is all I can think about. That and, this young woman shouldn’t be offering strange men a lift anywhere these days. “Let me talk this over with my partner,” I say, and beneath our masks Stephen and I whisper back-and-forth.

Let’s just say it: nobody knows the rules anymore.

“Could be a good caper,” SJ says.
“Could be a trap,” I say.
“Could be the Gods offering a little help in the face of adversity,” he says.
“Could be a trap,” I say.

What kind of world is it when you have to second-guess every surprising thing that floats your way? The answer: a world that demands you make the right choice – every time – and sometimes you have to choose for everyone.

In the end gently refused the offer, and in order to say ‘sorry’ and ‘thanks’ in the same move, I let her know that we would set aside a couple of tickets in her name at the door to this thing we’ve come to town to do, something called A Night of Grief & Mystery.
“Google it,” I texted.
“OMG… tysm!” she texted back. 

It took me a few seconds to figure out what the jumble of letters meant and I signed off as any good father would:
“Make good choices, Jane.”

gh
Boise, Idaho, Sept. 13, 2:00am

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.

gh