This Road I'm On
I took off across the country on schedule. I started gathering video immediately, an interview with Michael of the Terminal Freedom site, We met late at night just off the interstate to shoot in front of an empty mall. We sit and talk about independent music and the internet, the past and the future. Before I hit the road, I pull the dulci out and play there on the tailgate of the truck, with the wind storming out of the west.
As I try to begin the story, I am once again struck by the sheer enormity of it all... so many scenes, so many people and places, a collage of images in my head, memories. The little bits of this and that I pick up and put on the dash or in my pocket; a stone from a riverbank or a decoration off the mainstage, gold nuggets I dug in the mountains and feathers I picked up on the seashore. Through it all weaves the music, the dulcimer and me, singing in the wilderness, singing at the fair. Like snapshots, I can't tell a tenth of the real story. I can only ask you to look at all the stories, like I look at all the things I take off the dash and out of my pouch, and feel the connection to so much more that happened. I am lost in the memories, vague or too clear, but all a person would see is a man staring into space, turning a small rock in his fingers, remembering this life of a folksinger.
I'm headed north and west, across the border and into Canada; so many scenes. That night, when I pull off to sleep short of Saskatchewan, I see the northern lights again, far to the north, but now in sight.
In the morning I pull into the first town for coffee. Foregoing the highway mini-mart/gas station, I find a local place in the one street town. After coffee, I offer to play for them if they like before I move along, and so I do. This is how my life works, being there with the music everywhere I go, asking nothing. I meet a nice couple from a town up north, and they give the contacts for a fair up there. Then I'm on the road, north and west, as thunderstorms march across the plains from the southwest.
I reach the Lesser Slave Lake just ahead of a storm, driving through the smoldering remains of a major forest-fire. I follow directions to one of the organizer's homestead. Nobody was there but a dog I made friends with, and I choose to stay there, seeking that quiet to rest and recover, to celebrate solstice alone with the beauty and intensity of nature, before the fair. The storm rolls in with thunder and pouring rain, then passes on. I write and play the guitar and the flute, and I listen to the wind and the river and the singing of the birds.
In the morning I'm at the fair early, connecting with the organizers and getting my schedule. Its a pretty laid back fair really, so I like it. I found out, though, that the video really got in the way. It just took up too much time, videoing other people. Though it was good to be able to be of service and I was able to video this great African drum and dance group. But I am not here to be a videographer, but to play music. I got some good footage, right in line with my ideas for the summer, yet that first fair made it clear that I had to curb my plans for video a bit and focus on the music first. I'm just one person.
I still had to make the effort to documenting the trip, but sometimes I just had to let it slip. As well, in the end, few people, and especially artists, were interested in participating in any depth with interviews or participating in the "live" cast idea, or even getting footage for their own use. Of course, they are as busy as me trying to pull off a fair or perform, and video does take time, and even if not a lot of time, a little extra effort. I found people were willing for me to make the effort for them. I had to take a stand where I would meet people half way, help them, but not do it for them. The end result was that there were only a couple people involved and neither one really pursued it or followed up on it.
But for my own use, I still got some great moments for the tour journals or future documentary works, the real reason I have this gear. I even kept up on the themes I started with.
Finally, I just didn't, and don't, know where the video is going, i.e., if there will be a public response to encourage me to put out energy in this direction. I don't know if and how this will be effective. The videos haven't gone on-line, and until they do, I can't get any feedback on whether these are worth doing, or whether to concentrate on what it is all about, the music.
LATE JUNE-EARLY JULY
But we sang in the kitchen there at the fair, the first time, where I was jamming for the kitchen workers as they cleaned up and packed up. We sang rolling down the Alcan, north into the mountains and Alaska, and it was "so fine". We sang in Whitehorse, jamming in a music shop w/ back-to-back keyboards, singing with a band that night, and down at the park on Canada Day, and outside the coffeeshop. We sang in Delta Junction for the 4th of July, and visiting Dave and Lanna. We sang at Girdwood Forest Fair. Then we went on to Willow, to set up the recording gear. But instead of a weekend recording, and continuing this wonderful dream we were in; she decided to go, and things got pretty chaotic. I did managed to set the DAW up and we recorded few takes in the late night of a hard day; staying up all night to drive to Anchorage and put her on the bus in the morning. But I doubt I'll use any of it in the end, sad to say, and it hurts me to listen to it now.
Reality returned immediately, as it always does, no time to stop in my life, not yet. I was immediately packing and on the road to Homer, rushing down to barely catch the ferry to Kodiak Island for the Lion's music festival. I left the DAW in Willow and went. It was close, too close, but I was there in time, playing their piano as we headed out to sea, and the night. It felt really good to be moving out to sea, on the deck of a ship again. It was great, jammin on the back deck with a couple guys from a band, no dulci, just singing and drumming w/ my hammers. Later, I'm at the piano, writing songs about a golden girl. I can show someone a door, a road, a Way, but they have to choose it of their own free will, not from what I do or say. It is not easy, and only a sure knowledge that comes from your heart and soul can keep you steady on that road, facing whatever comes. All I know is she missed the boat. This is living the wild life, to be here, now, leaning on the rail, the cold sea-wind, staring out across the misty water, mountain-islands looming out of the mysterious darkness, the strange luminous light of the fog, and the moon.
I ride it through, pretty good, actually. I am keeping my act really together, jammin hard, though it feels pretty chaotic inside me and around me. There are orcas beside the ferry as we head out to sea again, through the night again, and I play the piano and actually bring the dulcimer up on deck this time, to jam on the rear deck, the wake streaming out behind us. Eventually I fall asleep to the hum of the ship.
Back in Homer, it's the red wagon saving the day. I end up having to haul my gear two miles up the spit through a light rain to where the truck is parked by the terminal, now closed for construction! Up in town, I search around on the ridge and somehow remember the route to Jimmie and Christine's house (Jimmie "the former Beadman", now full-time carver). Christine is gone but I spend the day talking and helping carve antler beads, a bit of work to pass the time, talking when we take breaks. A good gentle space to relax after the fair, losing myself in the repetition and rhythm of the work, letting energy flow.
I went back to Willow to mix-down the takes, make a copy for her, as I promised. Though it ended up being a month and a half before I even heard from her again, to know where to send the CDRs. All that mattered to me was to really be there, true to my words. But all in all she just made a hard road harder, and her voice echoed on in my head for a long time, our voices. Though she'd written a good song, and I started singing that a bit. Always good to find a song I want to sing. I had the roughmix CD of the session to play for everyone, who'd first been told she was doing the tour, then that she was not. They might be a bit curious? But what could I say? At least, listening to the music they could understand some of why I said "yes", without even thinking.
I stayed with my friends from Gold Creek, of course, helping them settling in on the new property. I spend the week working; pouring a concrete slab for the well-house, moving loads of lumber from the mill to the place, building. I like this kind of work a lot. When I was young, my dream wasn't to be a travelling performermer, but a homestead farmer, designing and building my own house, raising horses and honeybees, having a home and a family. It didn't turn out that way, though, so at the end of the week I'm off to Fairbanks.
I took the road south to Fairbanks and Cantwell, and up the Denali Highway to Valdez Creek. John, well, he never made it, but I was there, and got to know and stay with some local folk on another claim. It was a great visit, meeting some good people. I climbed the mountains to the places where the eagles rest. This place seemed so open, almost treeless, after the forests of the Brooks. I dug a little more gold. I played the dulci for them in their "miner's shack" as the northern lights danced.
But there's never enough time, and I'm soon on my way to Delta Junction. This time I help pour another concrete slab, for a hot tub, and I also build them an outhouse from the lumber I'd help move last time I was there. The weather turns and a heavy front hits. It's pouring rain in the morning, but I'm soon pounding the last nails, and then I'm making tracks east and north. I break out ahead of the rain just as I hit the gravel on the road to Eagle on the Yukon River. It's beautiful as I drive through the clouds, with the colors coming on strong now, bright reds and yellows, on the open tundra covering the rounded ridges; summer's gone.
I also got a call from Florida on Monday, bad news. It seems the guy I let stay on the boat totally blew it and messed my scene up big time. He never took care of anything, lost both dingys and the outboard, and very seriously, he didn't put on the new mooring chain I left for him. So the first I hear of it is a call from one of my neighbors in the harbor that one of my boats is on the beach after a storm. I am very lucky and sincerely grateful that these were good people and called me. If could have contacted friends or someone to take care it, there was still a chance the boat might still come off easy, probably undamaged, on the high tide, before the next storms and higher tides. I had no one to call really, but I'm glad they called, just to know someone cared enough to try, and I thanked them for it. I lay awake late that night, afer working late, with a troubled mind, thinking about the troubled times. It seems like a storm was storm, so many bad things happening, not just to me. The next day the World Trade Center was destroyed.
I begin two weeks of school shows and driving the loop. First I teach at Tetlin, a village that has just gotten a summer road this last year, still impassable in rain, but I took advantage of this rare clear fall and made it in Monday night, and out Tuesday just ahead of rain. I stop in Delta Junction and clean the car and visit, but am on to Fairbanks Wednesday evening, to get up and teach classes Thursday.
I play at Into the Woods coffeehouse that night. They are facing eviction after 5 years in a great location, the University wants to capitalize on the land more office space instead of alternative coffeehouses... an old story. But I play, and the hours slip away.
I still am pushing hard on a tight schedule, which means I drive over the mountains to Nenana that night. I'm on a pull-off outside town by 2 am.
I visit with Miles, "Wild Miles", at his place in Nenana. He's met a woman through the internet, maybe I should try that avenue. I suppose it means I'd find a ladysinger who was computer-savvy, somewhat, at least. We go into his shop and video an interview, as he's a crafter at the fair. I play guitar out in the yard as the sun sets on another beautiful fall day, and an amazingly long late Fall. Miles and I talk, we are both similar character, with plenty of stories behind us, trying to fit into the civilized world.
In the morning it is cold, but we take his boat out for a run on the river, pretty wild! My first time on the Tanana River, yet it is boats and water, surfacing in my life once again.
I am on to Willow again, to spend a day working on KK's computer and get her business based in it rolling again. But Sunday night I am on the road, sleeping by the sea on a pull off a few miles short of Girdwood. I get up in the morning and go teach classes all day, doing a final performance assembly at the end of school. I check, but my friends have left the rental and moved up to their own place near Talkeetna, so I've no reason to stay longer.That evening I'm trying to look up people to visit in Anchorage. Half the folks are busy, but half aren't! So I go to the library and play the piano there for an hour, echoes of other years as I play and look across town to the ridge of the mountains. I stop and visit with Mark of Kachemak Cooperage at the woodshop, then go on to see Tony, and crash there.
I do a show at the senior center, visit Graham,"the sound man" in Alaska, then head out and north, to sleep off the highway, up the old road near Eklutna. I get up in the morning and drive in to teach classes in Palmer, stopping at Vagabond Blues for coffee. In the afternoon I stop at Trinity Lutheran, but Kathy, the Pastor, is in Chicago and D'Roaster is out, so I drop off some CDRs and I head for Willow again, to get some work done that night on the internet.
In the morning I am on the road back south to Wasilla to play at the senior center and teach classes at the elementary school. I end up at Meads getting ready to play that night. That I do, and though there's only about 8 people there, its a good show. Pretty typical for the time of year here, too late for tourists and too early for the locals, but I don't mind. It's really all one show to me, and I just keep playing. Its easier to really play for fewer people, to connect and play what reaches them, share some songs. This is the last coffeehouse show of the Alaska tour. This summer season is over for sure.
I return to Willow and have a message from Talkeetna, and schedule a show for Monday, though I am pushing my luck with the weather. But this is my job, my duty as I see it, so I don't think twice. I've done about 40 shows in the last two weeks at six schools, two senior centers and two coffeehouses. I've driven from Eagle on the Yukon to Girdwood by the sea and back to Willow. This is also the one of best times of the whole season for me. Both because I am really hitting my stride, tired as I am, and the school shows are coming off great, without any hitches. I am definitely reaching the kids and teaching a good lesson, and doing a great show all told. I am using my music to do something good, and to do something that feels "Right", which is the fundamental basis of my life. I have no doubts or questions, it is all bright moments of light, beaming into this strange, wild life; shadowed by so much darkness.
I had planned to just make a few short stops; in Fairbanks, Delta Junction, and Tok; then head for Montana. I did stop in Fairbanks long enough to finally trade in my Montana Driver's License and for an Alaskan one. I had to face the facts, just as my friends had been telling me, that I am a resident of Alaska now. Perhaps by default, but the fact is I do spend more time in Alaska than anywhere else, by a long shot. And I keep coming back as often as I can. For a person like me whose work keeps them on the road much of the year, this is an important observation.
I'd tried getting an AK license a couple years before, but failed because half the questions were about what happens to you when you drink and drive. Well, I rarely drink, and don't drink and drive, so I wasn't up on the information and failed the test. They have bad problem with alcohol in AK, like a lot of places, so the driver's test seemed more like an anti-DWI tactics then a test of the rules of the road. But I got the manual this time and studied the questions on alcohol and passed. So now it's official, though my friends in Montana were bummed to lose me after all these years, the truth is I have spent most of my summers in AK for the last ten years, and not Montana, like I did before.
My friends keep telling me as well that from their point of view, I'm really very much an "Alaskan"...as a reflection of who I am, the life I live, and what I have done in Alaska, and what I do here for the people of Alaska. That's what drew me there and kept me here, or coming back, which is really the same thing for me. Even if I do fly south for the winter, well, so do the geese... and no one would deny they are Alaskan.. except maybe the Canadians! Then of course, the house I've used as my residence in Montana was sold to the developers last year and for all I know is townhouses now. Figured that it might be funny at the border to have an address on my license that doesn't exist. The end result is the same, and while its really just a technicality, everything in my simple life tends to be significant, and finally changing my license is one of those things.
However, when I reach Delta Junction and Dave and Lanna's place, I find the foundation for the house is still not done. Dave's been plagued by tractor breakdowns as well as all the other distractions, while at the same time, its only a bit over a couple weeks since I was last there and took pictures of him breaking ground for the basement and foundation. Well the hole was there, nearly, but that was all. I stood there talking to Dave and looking at the hole and knowing he wouldn't make it before freeze-up. I said that we could probably just finish it off by hand, and forget the tractor. We talked a bit, arguing the point; then I just grabbed a shovel and started digging... and well, Dave watched a second, sighed and grabbed a shovel too. I was right, though, a solid day's work and we had that hole squared out, cleaned up and leveled, and he ordered concrete. I checked with Joe in Montana, and he wasn't ready yet down there. We poured the slab for the basement floor with the help of another friend. While it set up a day, we got the rest of the stuff together, and began setting up the forms the next. It was one of the systems for casting insulated concrete, using styrofoam forms with plastic braces inside and temporary wood framing outside. It holds the heat the concrete puts off while curing so that you can pour even in freezing temps. Which was handy, since it snowed the night after we poured the walls. Talk about timing... something I am pretty good at, I have to be, and it feels good when it all comes out right, cosmic clockwork clicking away.
This was something I really felt good about. To be a friend when needed, and to have my sense of timing so justified and accurate, and the sense of being at the right place at the right time; like playing music. Of course, it is great to be able to come in when a friend has been working long and hard and is getting discouraged by problems. They're trying to put on a good face, but they're stuck, and I come in with energy and motivation and... whatever it is that just makes things happen, determination? I tend to be that way, I don't have time to think really, and there has been so many years now when I just couldn't. Life was so hard and dark all I could do to survive was focus on getting it done, whatever it was. Or maybe it's years of listening to people talk, while I went and did it, till now, I listen and nod and keep right on doing what I'm doing, making it happen, and not stopping to wait. I can't, because I'm on a train that's moving, and it's not stopping. It's like I said once long ago; it seemed like the choice was to go and do whatever alone or not at all, and I went. So as a result, I can be real handy when you need to get things done! I may not always be fast, or be overly enthusiastic, but I am deliberate, determined, and I get it done, I get a lot done. I do work fast, actually, quite a lot, and well, I put out a lot of energy. As Dave put it, he can't say how much he appreciated my being there, and he'll have to spend a few days flat on his back recovering from my visit after I'm gone!
It also seemed a strange sort of energetic coincidence, that this type of energy, building a home, should manifest so strongly in my life just now. Its like potential energy building up, maybe. Or perhaps that this energy is in me or my life and manifesting in what I do with and for other people, or the path I am on is entering this place I haven't been in a while. Suffice to say, this year has manifested a lot of concrete things! On a practical level, while I am thinking about building my own place, I get this opportunity to make a detailed and specific list of the present costs of everything involved in setting up a cabin in Alaska. Yet the geese and cranes circle overhead every day, huge flocks, heading south.
The snow fell, and settled in solid, and winter was here. But the foundation was done, even if we had to break down the scaffolding in the snow. Now the company crew could come and build their log house, and Dave could spend the winter finishing it out. But the critical point had been reached and the concrete poured before the cement plant closed for winter. We made it by 24 hours. We had built a chicken pen as well that day, and got the chickens in; that night it really snowed, amazing this years flock. The final job was setting up the oilstove and insulation in the well-house, which we did, and I promptly moved inside for the few days left. My work here was done, we'd finished the foundation and made a lot of things winter-ready, and I was ready to head out with the first break in the weather.
We had a few days flurries and blue skies, but what came next was a major storm. I watched it coming on, but I stayed one more night. I felt like I'd blown it as I woke to a raven calling me to get up, and found light snow falling, then heavy snow. I didn't wait but pulled out within the hour, wondering if I'd blown it for sure, but figuring I'd wait it out in Tok and visit folks, if I couldn't get ahead of it. The first 60 miles were bad, blinding snow, but then I broke free to flurries and 10 miles short of Tok I was on dry pavement and ahead of the storm. I pull off just long enough to drop CDRs at the off the road house for Helga, then I head out fast, and the race is on. The flurries are starting even as I head out, and the road is still patched with snow, but a 100 miles east at the border, I am ahead of it again, and intend to stay that way. I end this chapter and leave Alaska behind, for this season.
I am once more in my element, on the open road, running ahead of the storm. Soon I'm in a world I know too well, the dark highway, my light illuminating the black and white world of asphalt and snow and the endless white lines flashing by. I watch hard for the critters I know will be out there. Once again I wrestle with my thoughts of the summer, and what lies immediately ahead of in Canada. I know seeing her is going to be a pain, knowing I have it to do. It's riding on the old recurring dread of what is actually still far ahead, in miles, but not time.. or memory. I am heading south, the winter circuit, and it triggers the memories. Even as I try to focus on practical plans for the future, other thoughts crowd in the shadows and around the edges. I am practical, focusing on what I have to do ahead, on the way south, in Montana, in DC, in Florida, in Mexico, next year in Alaska. As I drive, I'm also reflecting on the trip, now that it is behind me.. There's so many threads in this life, and I can't tell you all of what goes on, how the images and thoughts weave and cross and fill my mind. There's a way some things begin to stand out clearly as I drive on through the night, and the miles and hours roll by.
"It's the things that people do
the things that people say
it's so many thoughts on a dark highway..."
I pull into Peace River that night. The next day the first snow arrives. And you know what, I'll spare you the details. But it was pretty much what I expected, a nightmare. Perhaps that was what was necessary, to confirm my intuition. It certainly made sure I wouldn't be having any real doubts about the situation after that. I put up a good firewall to keep her away as well. I did a great show, though I walked through fire to do it.. a very painful experience.. disgusting, too, but I was weeping when I was headed south down the highway later.
I know I did Right, one more time, though I wonder why my road takes me where its gone, why it was Right. The experience was a big pain, I want to understand why, to avoid it, or see what in me it reached for better or worse, what it reveals. There must be something that has nothing to do with her personally. I can't explain it, maybe meeting someone so like me was a very unique experience in my life. Maybe it was seeing the way someone I can sing with, share the music with, can reach me despite all my fear and distrust, all the walls. Life has been so lonely for me, and I know from horrible experience that being with someone wrong is worse, but maybe this was to show me maybe there is a way, there are people like me out there, singers and mystics, one foot, or one eye, on the other side. Though I don't know if this makes it easier or harder.
Thinking that if I can find someone like me, who could understand what it is like, what its been like, who could live in the world I live in, who feels the forces that move me... as clearly as night and day are to others. Someone who's lost in the music and the mystic, the magic, whatever it is. I once thought anyone could learn to perceive as I do, and maybe they can... I still don't know... but I feel more and more like it is something as natural as musical talent, and maybe no more rare. And of course, all talent and no training and practice... I'm glad I didn't have to invent music.
I've always dreamed of finding a ladysinger to live this life with, for so long now. To finally have it happen "just like I'd dreamed," but turn out to be a nightmare instead... not my idea of a good time. Yet maybe it will motivate me again. I can't deny how big a difference it made to have her there, even if it wasn't really her. I haven't been happy much in so long, so long since I laughed or smiled, except when I'm playing. A strange place to end up. I seeing that no matter what I do, and how great my life is, the loneliness has grown to shadow everything. There's this one small piece missing from the mix, and nothing is right without it
Somewhere on the drive south, I was asking myself whether I could write something positive, a happy song. Last year in Eagle, when I asked myself the same question, I wrote "Jam on the Beach". So I tried to remember how it was those first couple days, when everything was so great, a dream come true, and write a song about just that golden moment. The golden moment itself, when it doesn't matter where you are, you are there, and everything is perfect; the moment I seek. The dream too, still alive somehow after all I've been through. Like some hazy golden snapshot, it was one of the best songs of the trip: "SoFine".
"rollin down the road
the sun is shinin through the window
and the sky is blue
and your eyes are too
and the clouds are so white
and everything is so Right
you reach down and turn the radio on
and everything is sofine
sofine, sofine, sofine, sofine..."
One thing I should mention. It's that, hmmm, essentially people seem to take this all too seriously. I mean, it is serious, and too real, but I've had so much training it's no danger to me really, though the damage is there. I am in control, no problem. "Emotional" and "psychological" damage is as real as a broken bone, if biochemical. I just go on, either way, dealing with it but pretty much ignoring it, trying to avoid more of it as much as I can. When I can't, I walk through the fire and come out the other side. I keep on doing what I have to do, and walking this road I'm on, even if not near so well as I might have had things worked out differently, of course. The bad and ignorant people have caused me harm, just as the good people have helped me. I had no luck finding a partner, and that's such an important part of life, it seems like, in the end. But that can't stop me. I have wild raging emotions, but "I" dwell inside myself in a place they cannot reach, I watch the storm rage and thunder about me, the waves wash over me, rollercoaster rides and all; but I am like the rock, the mountain, the ancient tree on the mountain. I feel it all, but it only hurts. But it isn't important, or, hmm, not a big priority just how I feel, if that makes sense? If something makes me feel bad, I don't fight it or deny it, I just let it wash over me, and I carry on with my work. That's the point, I've got a job to do, and that is my overriding priority. I've meditated and fasted, trained physically and mentally, studied and practiced to focus my energy and balance it in motion, with intent, grace and power, dance, sing, harmony. I couldn't explain it, but I Knew when I did it Right, close as a few words can get. Anyway, "it's a whole 'nother world!"
In fact, I think it is the very security of this solid foundation that let's me release my emotions to do as they please. I am not scared or even concerned over the result. I am always in control, always aware of what is really happening. Even when I know the damage is as real as any obvious physical damage. I feel the same way about my body. I mean, physical pain does not move me, either, though I feel it, maybe even feel it more, and I know I can be hurt, even permanently crippled or killed. Yet this doesn't move me, or threaten me, or keep me from any action I have to take. Of course, I avoid it if I can, but I don't flinch if I can't. Steel and fire, I can be hurt, I can be killed, but I cannot be moved against my will, and I do not fear the darkness, even inside me. So, really, though there's real and serious pain and sadness, and a lot of trouble, these things are nothing I worry about. It's just the way it goes.
On the road south, I was back in the familiar weird space of having so much going on inside me, the serious emotional reaction to this really negative, stressful experience, while trying not to let it spread to people who really have no part or knowledge of it. They have no need to know, and in fact, shouldn't know. I don't want the negativity to spread, like ripples in a pond, as I tell a sad story. I want to move on, be distracted from it, forget about something that deserves to be forgotten.... not drag it on into every following experience with every conversation. But it is a stange place though, I was probably obviously tense and over-wrought; overlaid on some serious road burnout and sleep deprivation. Truthfully enough, I was definitely riding a serious burn, tired and worn out, at the end of a long series of shows, and a whole summer, a big drain and strain with unescessary pain and trouble thrown in; then this nightmare visit to top both off.
But I have a life, a pretty cool one, when I head on and leave that sick, stupid world behind. I reach Edmonton and meet up with another musician I connected to on the net, trying to make that idea work. It's the same concept as last year, seeing if I can use the Internet music networks to connect with people, to jam and talk music with along the way, or just visit, trying to get some recreation and inspiration out of it, and a break in routine as well, both for me and the people I visit. If it really works, it would help justify driving instead of flying, which is still not a sure thing at all. I'm hoping that even these first few contacts might help me connect with their local scenes eventually, if I keep this circuit up. But as far as this year goes, I really don't know where I'd find the time to spend in more places even with the contacts! Yet the stops along the way were a nice change, even the short ones. Though I often burnt myself out more physically doing it, pushing to fit in more, rather than really getting any recovery time, it felt good, breaking the isolation of my life a bit.
There's not much time, but we're able to talk a bit about life and music and the local scene; and jam a few tunes in his basement, and have coffee in the morning before we both get off to our lives- he had to run around town and I had to race on down the road.
Calgary is next and that turns out to be a good stop, all told. I connect there with Will a.k.a. "Waldo", the founder of Nowhereradio.com. He's one of the people I want to do a video interview with, on the theme of showing the people behind the scenes of the internet independent music scene. I'm also there to touch base on the plans to implement the new economic model I want to use for producing my music for people, a subscription-based patronage system. But that's another story. In the short time we had though, I wasn't that interested in talking business. We've done and continue to do that through the internet. The video interview, and the chance to meet ion person, and just talk with someone with similar interests; was more important. We can actually shake hands, and talk about whatever comes to mind, and hang out with his friends at a local pizzaplace. Some of his friends are in a band, so I agree to stay an extra day and jam with them the next night.
I head out of town and sleep next to a construction area, always a good bet if you don't mind getting up early. But at least there are no residents to call the cops. I head in to the coffeshop I found and before going to meet Will for the interview at his place at noon. I don't feel it went as well, though I haven't reviewed the footage. We ended up talking more than interviewing, i.e., I talked as much as he did, which wasn't the idea really. But at least Will is seriously into video, so he has the means to do more footage himself if mine is not enough.
Afterwards I head to the library for internet access, till its time to jam. I go over to one of the guy's places and we just jam on guitars for a while. We go from there to the practice basement and a few hours of rocking out with the dulci. I also get a chance to play an old Fender Rhodes mark 1, pretty cool, though I'm not in shape for it. I really respect something with a history, not newness...the trackrecord instead of the promotional baseless hype. While I had played more guitar this year, I played a lot less piano. It was a fun jam, though, and like any jam it had its moments, both types! Finally, we headed over to a local bar, mostly just a place to talk and wind down from the jam. We head out at about 3 am. I go back to catch some sleep at the same place as before.
In the morning I hit the coffeeshop, then hit the road. It's is clear and cold, and the storm is pushing hard against the mountains that have protected me from it on the run down the plains. As usual, while I ran away from it coming from the northwest, it has slid south down the coast and is now coming at me from the southwest, pushing up the Frazer from the sea, and I am racing to meet it. But luck is with me and I cross the freeze-line just south of Calgary, well north of the pass I want to take back across the great divide. The wind is roaring through the Crow's Nest Pass and the wall of black clouds is boiling over the mountains. I plunge into a solid wall of pouring rain, but not snow. It is a short but still tough drive till I break out behind the front, only a few miles from the border.
I am in for a pleasant surprise. Seems they've decided they have more to worry about now than harassing hippies. Not to mention, they know exactly who I am already, maybe before I even reached the little booth. I have files going back my teens in LRY. I'm sure it's all on their screen, I notice they've got new ones; and here I am once again, only a few days off the date I crossed this same spot last year. So for once, I get a couple questions and they tell me to move along, instead of pulling into the search bay. I am stunned for a second, amazing just how used to routine harassment you can get, then I drive on into Montana. There's just a couple hundred miles left, and once again I arrive with the storm. I make it out to the new place, outside of town, though its a bit of a strange scene. It's Halloween... everyone at the gas station is in costumes, and at Joe's sister's place there's a Halloween party going on; not my scene though. Once again, I am just in too different a place, a space, coming right off the road. So I watch everyone celebrating with their friends and mostly find a quiet place to rest and wait till Joe arrives later from town. He does, and we head out to the property and I finally furl my wings, take it out of gear, and give it a rest. I made it here, and I know I have a few weeks before I have to fly again.
It was really interesting to experience, to observe, so many different scenarios of recording played out in that short time. I recorded "sofine", seeing a song I just wrote unfold and take shape right there. I also recorded us just jamming the tunes we'd played for years. Joe and I also struggled with the effort of collaboration. I often had definite feelings about what I wanted, or didn't want, in a lead track or a song; yet I couldn't tell Joe what to play because I'm not a lead player. I couldn't translate the "feel" I wanted into the technical terminology of scales and modes Joe knows. He was struggling with the frustrations of having creative ideas he liked, that I didn't like, or knew wouldn't fit with the dulcimer tracks he couldn't hear. He was also enjoying the pleasure and pride of realizing he could do it, as other things he tried worked great, or he was able to translate my often vague suggestions and feelings into something that worked. All while we were both not at our best at all, but we've been friends long enough to recognize and understand that, and carry on, making the best of the situation as we found it.
As we talked about my decision to "settle down" somehow, he suggested that I might buy a piece of their property, a narrow piece originally intended to provide access to the creek for stock, but now cut off by the road and not very useful. Again, I was able to see just what he was paying for the same things I'd listed in Alaska, the basics for a small cabin. And here I was, digging foundations and pouring concrete again. It must be a planetary alignment or something...oh boy, my stars are aligned in concrete?
Realistically though, this is one of the major decisions of the year, and a turning point in my life. If I can manage it...old habits and all. Practically, I've accepted that even with all this equipment I can't be productive unless I get off the road for a good portion of the year in a good space I can work in. I still plan to get a van that I can rig as a workable living and recording space on the road. Just in case I stay on the road. My life is based on directions, and I have no expectation that they will lead where I imagine. I remember always that I am following the music, and the positive energy I've found there, and if these things aren't on that road, or turn me from it, I have serious doubts that there is something positive in them for me. The fact is, its not the road that is killing me. I am good at travelling, and the road has a lot to offer; yet it has real practical drawbacks. I'm willing to give it up as well. I've done enough of it for a lifetime, though there are still plenty of places I'd like to see, I know I'll never see it all. It's where I want to be that counts. I could have settled any time, and my first dream was to be a homesteader. But I've never met a lady who bothered to see through her preconceptions and the mythic image of the gypsy musician, to the type of person I really am.
The snow came and stayed. Though I can't say what we got out of the session yet, I know there is some stuff I can use. The funniest thing is, as I listen to it, I realize almost everything there stands alone, even though a lot of it is meant to be simply back-up for the dulcimer, and the vocals are just scratch tracks. It reminds me that I am a singer first, and even if I have revolutionized dulcimer playing and broken ground with it in so many musical fields, albeit unpublicized. It is what I am known for, but it is not indispensable. In the thread of having my own recording gear, and creating a long term ongoing relationship with my fans, I realize I will be able to give them more than just the dulcimer over the years, and music that that the dulcimer can be a minor part of or left out all together. I will be able to give them the whole range of my musical ability and creativity, beyond the boundaries of the dulcimer.
Joe's been looking at my PARIS system and what we are working on. I had it with me and set up last year, but he was way too caught up in the sudden loss of his place to focus on it, as I was too, really. But we did agree to make this year's session happen. It's a reflection of how deliberate I am, juggling so many things on an annual circuit. We shook on it, and I'm back this year and we are making it happen, and he's having a good time. Then its time for me to go. So he decided to have his cousin build him a system while I'm still around. I wish we'd started sooner or I had more time so I could have gotten it set up and running. As it was I burned all the tracks to CDR so he can keep working on the session after I'm gone. This is the way I'd hoped to collaborate with other musicians actually. Sending multitrack CDRs back and forth, and connecting and keeping in touch via e-mail. Potentially, scratch tracks for feedback could go back and forth via mp3s. It's funny that the first real potential long-distance collaboration comes from Joe, who I actual stop and jam with on my circuit, than someone in the internetworkworld. Now howzat for a word?
I leave one night, late, staying till the last minute, racing east in the darkness as the snow begins to fall, the stormfront coming over the mountains from the west. As I clear the last pass its coming down hard and there's a fresh inch on top, but I'm over and gone...across the great divide. I pull over and I sleep a few hours before morning. When I wake up it is now a blizzard sweeping up the front range, exploding over the pass behind me. The wind is heavy enough they detour high vehicles off the highway and onto the sideroad, though the road is still pretty dry. I'm soon moving out down the valley of the Yellowstone and ahead of the storm again, following these historic rivers off across the plains, the piney bluffs and badlands. Eastern Montana, North Dakota, rolling grass and sky till the sunset illuminates the storm, just a low cloudbank on the horizon. I pull over and sleep down a dirt road not far from the highway, a few miles into Wisconsin.
I wake in a peaceful spot, though I can hear the trucks sometimes. I head back to the highway, but it's only a couple more exits to my destination, stopping to help a guy building a dulcimer with a lesson. I meet him in a nice college town coffeeshop I found. I tried the old idea of using my camera and his VCR to do a detailed lesson and record it so he can work through it in his own time. We took a trip down to visit the college woodshop where he's building his dulci and talk to the teacher. Though it was cold, on the way out I slid the dulci out onto the tailgate ... even out of tune as it was I was able to find some decent sections and let her rip. But that night I am on the road, driving down the dark highway.
I spend the next day getting through Chicago traffic and around the lake and north to visit my Michigan relatives, the town ma grew up in. I used to come here summers. It's still small and quiet, like my uncle likes it. I stay a few days while the storm catches up as rain. Its a nice quiet visit and I rest a bit now. Fall has been late this year, which means it will likely drop major snow any day, as the moister air is further north.
It's still good weather when I say good-bye and head for Louisville, KY. I missed this stop last year, after a jam in Indianapolis. But when a major storm was blowing in I headed direct to DC ahead of it. This year I make it, this is the way my life works, in circuits, and a longer view of things for me. If not this year then next year is how I see it. And conversely, making the effort to seize the significant when I can. I'll be back, if the continuity is there to allow that, to be part of my life. Which in many ways is as routine and solid as others, maybe more. Just a bit more of an extreme routine, a bit Further.
I arrive at night and meet Tom of 52media in the morning. I do another interview, and there's really no time to talk business, and that's not what I'm stopping for. 52 is still aimed at streaming video, though its been mostly dealing with the de-capitalization of the internet followed by, oddly enough, the megacorporation take-over of the industry and attempt to monopolize the medium, and the message. But that's what this interview series is about, not internet music, but independent music on the internet.
By the afternoon, I reach Nashville. I'm trying to make a long promised stop at one of TerriLynn's showcases, but it doesn't happen. The one the night I happened to come through, Tuesday, was canceled. So I waited out rush hour, listening to PBS and working on the account books, writing, playing guitar and singing. Trains roll by next to where I'm parked, in an industrial section of semis and warehouses. A storm is moving in, rain turning to snow, but I'm racing ahead of it soon. I drive into the night and drive all night, ahead of the storm and across the mountains, down the Shenandoah valley into Virginia. All the thoughts work in my head, the whole summer behind me, songs I wrote, and plans I could make and the plans I need to make. I have to hit the ground running here in DC, and there are the things I still have to deal with ahead. I'm fighting the feeling of dread the closer I get, the negative feelings and memories associated with the coming trip south and the boats. So many thoughts...
At dawn I'm coming in with the early traffic to DC, just congealing as I slip through. I reach Alexandria and the few miles off the highway to the house and let myself in. I walk back to the kitchen and the sun is rising, framed in the diningroom windows.
I'm back at 1213. I don't know how many miles this time... I guess I'll figure it out sometime. Right now I'm trying to shift gears and time zones. It's the holidays and I have to clean up and get a tree and get ready for my brother's family to arrive. Maybe unpack and get the computer set up and start burning CDRs for gifts, I've been giving away a roughmix of the Montana session. Now I focus on a few simple things, mostly, get the tree up and decorated before X-mass and wrap up the things I've gathered along the way to give away.. festival posters, programs, and T shirts, the session CDRs. And a blank videotape representing the video I'll mixdown from the year's footage, after things quiet down and I have some time. Then I'll catch up the e-mail and write up the summer's story and post it, get out a note to folks and get ready to go. I'll be a few weeks here, though, helping out. Time that will pass fast. By the end of the month though, I'll be heading south to Florida.
But that's another story: 2002. Next year, well, actually, this year... it's New Years Day. Well, 2001 has been...interesting, once again; pretty intense, beautiful and terrible... the normal routine. Guess its time to see what's next.
"I don't know where I'm comin from
I'm just on this road I'm on
don't know where I'm going to
just tryin to make it through
if you want to walk a while
maybe I can make you smile
but I'm just singin songs
on this road I'm on"