Boulder, CO – “You’ve Almost Reached Sally Taylor” – Sept 27, 1999

I’ve been home a week and life feels soooooo stagnant.  Where the motion of life on the road once allowed my emotions to vent off me in great plumes of colorful streamers down the highway, they now land in stagnant clumps.  Loneliness, anxiety, fear, joy, and rage all pile up inside me like a mess of loose, clotted yarn.  Sure I had some terminal illness, I made an appointment with my chiropractor, Dr. Dougan on Thursday.  He muscle tested me and said that while my adrenals were spent and my skin dehydrated, my “dis-ease” was in my head.  “You’re perfectly healthy,” he insisted, pressing down with a grunt on my forearm.  But I still felt gnarly as I walked home, like gristle spit politely into a cotton napkin and squirreled away under a table.

We were in such a rush to get home after Nashville, racing west through the night against the sun’s rise in the east. I fell through my front door in Boulder at 3 am like a marathoner crossing the finish line.  I was exhausted, sweating under the weight of so many bags and guitar cases. Home smelled wrong, like a cheap plastic baby doll head left on a radiator. Was this what home always smelled like? I wondered as I dropped my bags on the couch. Not recalling what normal people do at home, I wandered toward the blinking red light on my answering machine.  My outgoing message played first:

“Hey, you’ve almost reached Sally Taylor.  I’m out of town for a month and a half and won’t be checking this machine ‘til the end of September so I hope you don’t need a ride to the emergency room or an urgent answer to a math problem unless it’s 294.56…  and then, well, you’re welcome.  Call you in the fall.”  A beep preceded a flood of old messages that crackled from my ancient, crusty machine.  They were from people I’d forgotten were friends inviting me to parties long since over.   There was one from my mom reminding me to call her best friend on her birthday and one from Dad who forgot I was on the road and wanted to make sure I renewed my passport.

As I listened to the endless stream of messages marking the months I’d missed, I forgot how tired I was just ten minutes ago in the van and started doing things I’d left undone in July. I picked up the vacuum I’d left lying in the living room and finished the dishes in the sink.  I cleared the refrigerator, chucking the half-empty, molding Ragu sauce and a petrified slice of pizza left uncovered on a paper plate.  I changed the ink in my printer and a light bulb in the ceiling and as the sun finally caught up with me in our race around the planet, it found me unpacking my bags. I put a load of laundry through before allowing myself the comfort of my bed.

In the clean house I’d meant to leave myself to return to, I crawled under a familiar blanket, put on my stupid sky-blue retainer with the glitter tiger on it, which I’ll have to wear for the rest of my life (thanks Dr. Lempshin) and set myself an alarm for 10 am.  Then, with a sigh, I blissfully fell asleep for the next 30 hours.

On The Drive

We’re listening to Reggae.  My red-toe nail polish is cracking and revealing the 10 coats beneath it.  I don’t bring remover on tour, I merely paint over and move on.  I’m wearing overalls and flip-flops.  Chris Soucy is doing the crossword.  I wonder if my dad’s second wife, Catherine Walker, still does the crossword.  The thought of Catherine evokes a feeling of being stabbed in the ribs. Intuitively, I sit up straight and behave myself by trying not to breathe. 

Catherine was an injured woman. I knew this even at 12 when she and my dad got married at Saint John the Divine’s Cathedral on 113th Street and Amsterdam in New York. She didn’t know how not to make my brother and me the source of her victimhood.  I recall summoning all my energy just to keep her arrows of condescension from penetrating me.  Even when my brother and I were perfectly behaved, her attitude toward us was unpredictable and abrasive. Some weekends, If we were lucky, she’d hide out in her and dad’s room with her three-legged cat “Kitty,” and her oversized glass of chardonnay full of ice cubes for the duration of our stay.

She had a closet of pets—parrots, bunnies, rats, and 100s of mice who often got lice and were quarantined into multiple cages. She had a chihuahua named “Flea,” she’d found on the street (in Texas I believe) who was always trying to bite Ben and my ankles.  When she wasn’t holed up in her room she was a storm cloud that moved around the apartment in a white nighty, sighing loudly whenever she saw us. I spent my time with her trying to make myself invisible the way I imagined I’d hide from a trigger, knowing that if I breathed wrong she might tear me to pieces with her sharp wit. 

She was full of “Oh goddddddds” followed by sardonic laughter which cut past my heart into the bedrock of my soul.  At my mother’s house, I at least had my own bedroom to escape to where I felt safe and free to be myself.  At Dad’s, all he could convince her to sacrifice for us was a single room.  No toys, no wall décor – just two single beds pushed up against a wall without a bed frame and I’m sure my dad had to fight for that.  She no doubt saw us as extensions of our mother and was only too willing to unleash the full arsenal of her venom on us hoping it might rub off on our mom when we were returned at the end of the weekend.

The thought of Catherine has me looking quite shell-shocked and Soucy leans over to ask if I’m alright. This is how we get to know each other on the road. Someone’s doing the crossword inspires a childhood memory and the next thing you know, we’re trading in divorce traumas and childhood abandonment. This is how a band becomes a family.

Martha’s Vineyard, MA – “Sharing Mom’s Spotlight” – Hot Tin Roof – August 28, 1999

This stage is where I had my first taste of the spotlight. Back then I knew, curled around my mom’s stems, shaking from head to toe with nerves, I never wanted to leave. I’d sung backup “Lalas” on a song called “Jesse” for my mom’s most recent album and she invited me to join her on stage for a live performance of it.

Sally on the “Lalas”

I was both terrified and enticed by the invitation. I thought “Maybe, if I’m good enough, I’ll get a record deal and go on the road and get to skip school and my friends will like me because I’m famous and not just because my parents are famous and then I’ll feel worthy of being my parent’s child and not have to feel ashamed of being unworthy of the life I was born into and try to make myself invisible or people please to make up for not being good enough, pretty enough or talented enough.” I probably didn’t have words to go with these last thoughts, the nuances of those would come to the surface only after years of excavation in therapy, but that was the spirit of them. I stood in the shadow, stage right waiting for Mom to say my name, and then finally…

Photo Credit: Peter Simon

“For this next song, I’d like to introduce my daughter Sarah Maria, or as we call her ‘Sally’ to the stage.” The Hot Tin Roof was packed to the gills. A roaring cheer erupted from the crowd as I stepped into the spotlight and took my first hit of off the stage light. It electrified me like heroin. I knew immediately, the way a junkie knows the first time they taste their drug of choice, I’d need more. My eyes adjusted to the light as I approached my mom. She’d pulled her mic off the stand and held it to my mouth. I said something nervously like “hu-llo,” which lit up the crowd with laughter and more applause and made me wish I’d said more cause it felt so damn good to feel their attention and adoration.
Mom counted off and I stared up at her waiting for my cue. There were other performances, other “lalas” on other stages. But after the Hot Tin Roof, I was only ever chasing the dragon. That performance was the closest the stage has ever brought me to seeing God. It was an out of body experience. I felt my feet go numb, my breath caught in the butterfly netting between heartbeats, the room spun and all the smiles in the audience were pumped, like one big jucy hit of cold air into my tiny 4-year-old body.

Now, it was my turn to hold the spotlight at the Hot Tin Roof and invite my mom to the mic. It was one of those moonless, chilly, fall nights and trees whirled their leaves like pompoms in the dark. The venue was packed to the rafters with familiar faces and I joked between songs, “I think it’s fair to say I’ve either kissed most of you or that we’re related.”

When I introduced Carly Simon, the applause came in deafening waves. She sauntered out swinging a strut so familiar I almost forgot we weren’t back at home in our living room. I was so proud to have her on stage with me and imagined how she must have felt, 20 years ago, watching little Sally, wander into her spotlight. Mom was as shimmering—perfect, gorgeous, dazzling, and mesmerizing as ever. We sang in perfect harmony, hamming it up for the crowd and dancing in moves we rarely displayed outside of the privacy of our backyard. Being together on stage, on THIS stage in particular, was the most fun I’ve EVER had, and at the end of the night—after the stage lights were cut, and the doors had been kicked open and the scent of wood fires filled the air, and the August winds rushed around the club like a Tasmanian devil, I was still intoxicated from the buzz of the stage.

The leftovers from the crowd huddled around the bar, in patches of ferrydust-filled halo lighting. It was just like old times. As a summer job at 18, I used to take tickets at the Hot Tin Roof and I remember sitting slumped over, shoes off, throwing limes, and slinging beers down the bar to the other staff after the last encore had been sung. It was nice to see the post-show tradition lived on.

Jeremy Lichter
—the guitar player who didn’t work out—was there. He said he was playing in a cover band called “Weed.” While we’d parted ways under not-so-good terms, there were no longer any hard feelings. Just goes to prove time does heal all wounds.

Ogunquit, ME – “Will Drink for Lobsters” -Jonathan’s – August 27, 1999

The rocky coast of Maine was exquisite. Fog sat patiently above the water while tiny children in polka-dot swimsuits waded. They jumped into the air in ecstatic synchronized dances and screamed with glee. Moby crept slowly up the east coast on Route 1. Kenny slept, McRae stared out “Bart” the blurry patch, Soucy studied the map, I typed this entry, and as usual, Delucchi drove. The 70-mile trip from New Hampshire to Maine was a creeper for two reasons.

  1. Traffic was a nightmare. Throngs of people claim Ogunquit as their weekend getaway.
  2. We had to time interviews with rest stops.

You may not know this, but most touring band interviews take place from payphones in the middle of nowhere. Today, we had to wait outside a payphone for half an hour so I could do an on-air radio interview WMVY to promote our show in Martha’s Vineyard. At noon we were passing through a toll booth when Soucy (with his stealthy birdwatcher’s eye) spotted a pay booth on the side of the road. Excitedly, he pulled out the map, “This might be the last time we’re near a phone for the next hour,” he reported. Delucchi pulled up 50 feet from the toll plaza and I inspected the phone to make sure it had a dial tone. I camped out directly in front of the booth to ensure nobody snagged it when 12:30 rolled around. I tried to catch some rays but mostly caught exhaust and stray dirt flying off accelerating cars.

At the time of the interview, I opened the booth’s accordion-style doors and wedged myself inside. It was splattered with some brown beverage—coffee or Coke, who knows. I’d come prepared. I had $20 bucks of quarters wrapped in a bandana which made me look like a cartoon bank robber from the 50s but I’d done my math. A ½ hour call to Martha’s Vineyard from Maine was gonna cost .75¢ for the first minute and .35¢ each additional minute for a grand total of approximately $10.15. Hearing was a challenge with truckers changing gears, 18-wheelers screeching to pay the toll, and the boys playing Frisbee and cleaning out the cooler in the background. Frequently an automated voice would interrupt the DJ: “Please, deposit an additional one dollar and five cents for the next three minutes,” it would say and I’d embarassedly fumble with my bandana, fish out the funds, and apologize profusely.

The next interview at 2:00 took place in a shack called “The Road Kill Restaurant.” Where a payphone was stuck on a wall near the bar. “Come on Eileen” was playing pretty loudly and I plugged one ear to hear the interviewer’s questions. The smell of fried food clung to the walls, and the yellow, mafia-style lighting etched a sort of sad ambivalence into my conversation which otherwise I thought went well enough.

We were exhausted when we finally arrived at Soucy’s cousin Fritz’s house. Fritz and his wife, Tammy met us at the door and proudly announced they’d been drinking alcoholically in preparation for our arrival. We wondered what Soucy told them that would lead them to sacrifice their livers for our pilgrimage until they explained that for every $40 spent on booze at their local watering hole, they scored one free lobster at something called “Lobster in the Rough.”

“I hope you’re hungry,” Tammy rubbed her hands. Together, they’d managed to secure 16 lobsters in 3 months—since Soucy told them we might be stopping by—and probably damaged their bodies beyond repair just for our picnic. The least we could do was don a bib, crack a claw, butter up our fingers, and listen to the ripe stories Fritz and Tammy earned in pursuit of our lobster feast. With a belly full of beer and crustaceans, I raised a toast, “Here’s to Fritz and Tammy, their lobsters, their watering hole, and their livers for hosting us up here in beautiful Maine.”

Londonderry, NH – “Dad’s in the House” – The Muse at Gray Goose – August 26, 1999

I played in front of my ol’ man for the first time last night and boy was I nervous!

The night before, he’d put the band up at Stockbridge’s charming “Red Lion Inn,” a Victorian-style bed and breakfast and his groovy girlfriend, Kim and he had us over for dinner. We sat around the table on his porch late into the evening trading hilarious tales from our paralell roads. It felt good to be with my dad and to identify with his musical journey in a new way, from the vantage of my own. The dark enveloped us. Candles were lit and the flickering played a strobe light of smiles across the night. The boys absolutely loved my ol’ man! They couldn’t stop talking about him the whole way back to the inn.

It rained the next day and we returned to my Pop’s to do an unreasonable amount of laundry in their very nice new washer & dryer. In the afternoon, Dad rode up to the show with us in Moby. It felt a little extra stuffy in the van due to the way our clothes stuck to us with velcro-like insistence. Every vehicle over 22 feet long that passed us inspired my dad to point and say: “Now, THAT would be a good ride to tour in!” We’d all agree and offer renovations we’d make to accommodate a touring band:

“Build in Bunkbeds” Yelled Kenny
“Could you hang hammocks in a bus like that? I think I’d like to stay stationary around corners.” I’d posit.
“All a vehical like that needs is a mini fridge and a coffee machine. I’d sleep on the floor if I could tour in a thing like that,” laughed Delucchi.
“You’d probably want to tare out most of the interior, pop the top up and start form scratch.” Proposed my dad imagining the finished product. And just as we were dreaming about perfecting the last van or truck, the next 22-footer would drive by and we’d start all over again.

We had a great Opener, a guy named Mark Erelli, who sang some beautiful original tunes and wasn’t at all bummed about getting to perform them in front of James Taylor. The show was sold out. It had been for 2 weeks according to Meredith and Kent, the beautiful couple who owned the venue. They’d supposedly had to turn away twice their capacity.

I was shaking and nervous in the changing area back stage before I went on and did jumping jacks and leg exchanges to work out some of the nerves. Fitness is my go-to stagefright eraser. My hypothesis being that there’s too much adrenaline pooling in the body and so exersize encourages the heart to pump it out. I am clearly not a doctor and have no way of knowing if this is true but it feels right doesn’t it? Anyhow, it works.

Some nerves are good. If I can convince myself the fear I’m feeling is actually just excitement, I can ride the energy instead of letting it ride me and the effect can be contagious. The trick is to get the crowd to climb on board the butterflies in your stomach and ride them with you to magical heights. To encourage this, I use humor. When I can get an audience to laugh early in a show I know they’re on board and my nervousness starts to abate.

Performance is an art all its own. Before I was a musician, I didn’t know this. I just started writing songs. Then I learned how to play guitar to accompany those songs. Then I learned how to sing while playing guitar and then I learned how play a room of people while singing and playing guitar. I think you become a performing artist the same way you become a ball balancing, plate-spinning, juggler—one skill at a time.

The show was great. My voice was on point and the band was locked in. The audience was respectful and often stood to applaud after a song. At the end of the night, as I was thanking the cowd for coming someone yelled out “Get your dad up for one.” Without hesitation my dad joined me on stage and without a rehearsal we played “Close Your Eyes.” It was sweet and joyous and familiar in the truest sense.

Dad said he was impressed with the show, the band and more than that “I’m just so proud of the way you’re independently tackling this music thing Sal.” We strolled in our matching Taylor lopeing strides toward a loaded-up Moby. “It’s not for the weak of heart my gal,” he continued “and you’ve really got it.” Outside the van, in the parking lot, he turned me toward him. I could hear his familiar breathing pattern—in for 2 out for 10. He put his hands on my shoulders and gave me the Taylor hug—2 pats followed by 3 shakes.

And with that, we waved goodbye under a full moon and forged our way alone toward Maine.

Cleveland, OH – “Lessons in Humility” – The Agora Ballroom – August 24 & 25, 1999

In a historic venue that fits 700, there were only 10 people at our show (3 of which were the opening band).

It was raining—Drizzle, drizzle, drizzle—all three days we had off in Cleveland. No one wanted to go outside so we instead, amused ourselves in the hotel. Brian and Kenny shared room #776 and both Chrises and myself took #772 with a foldaway. We watched mind-numbing movies, made phone calls, worked out, swam, did group facials, and made a ritual out of the Denny’s next door for dinner.

Kenny in room #776

The morning of the 24th was a Tuesday. I was having a bitch of a time uploading last week’s ‘Tales from the Road’ to the world wide web. For anyone interested in the process I get to go through to feed you these fascinating little gems of insight into our captivating lives on the road (insert note of sarcasm here) I’ll first tell you, it ain’t easy.

Uploading “Tales from the Road” from a Hotel Room:

  • First, I call down to reception to get the hotel’s www login credentials.
  • Next, I plug my trusty ethernet cable into the phone jack and boot up my operating system.
  • Next, I check my network settings to make sure they’re configured to obtain an IP address automatically.
  • Then I open an internet browser (I use one called Netscape Navigator) to test my connection. This rarely works on the first try. I’m usually, pulling my hair out, unplugging the ethernet cable, reassembling their phone line, and calling the front desk at least 4 times before I get my laptop to connect.
  • Once on Navigator, I log into my AOL account and diligently copy and paste each episode I’ve written into an email addressed to my webmaster, Dan Beach.

The whole process takes approximately 2 hours (if I’m successful in launching the browser in the first 4 tries and the service is fast enough for the email to go through). Then, I cross my fingers and hope to see my writings appear on in the coming days. Most of my writing is done in transit—in the van between gigs. Soucy, the educator he is, checks each entry for my inevitable spelling and grammatical mistakes. He’s so multifaceted. I don’t deserve him.

Our plan Tuesday was to hit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and, while there, have a ceremony where by Kenny would award our mascot “Skunk Buddy” to Brian for making last tour’s greatest faux pas. Brian won the honor of drinking the hot skunky beer when he ended a song 8 bars early the night we opened for Big Head Todd and the Monsters. In the decapitated silence that ensued after his error, I heard Brian whisper in back of me, “…I’m drinking Buddy.”

This particular Budweiser was going to be extra skunky. It spent not only the duration of our entire West Coast tour but most of our three-week break in Colorado, in a hot van in a hot cooler. I was sorry to miss the ritual but the guys could see (by the clumps of hair I was holding in my hands) that I was going to upload these gigs to the internet or die trying. They promised to video Brian’s reaction and left me in the dusk-blue floral-patterned room to my digital nightmare.

We loaded into the Agora at 6 PM and sound checked. The joint smelled of urine. Old, yellowed news articles were laminated on tables and walls. We went out to grab a bite. Waiting right outside the entrance were 7 people who were eagerly waiting for doors to open so they could get a good seat for our show. Little did we know they’d be the only people to come.

The streets were empty but for some rats pretending to be humans in trench coats and hunched shoulders. A pretty craked-up-looking guy approached just outside the venue. He told us he’d just been released from the penitentiary and tried to sell Soucy a brass ring he insisted was silver. Soucy did not buy the craked-up-looking guy’s “silver” ring.

Needless to say, the show was a bust. Kenny played his butt off though and we ended up chalking it up to good experience. The 7 people that were lined up early for the gig—already had our CD and sang along….which made us feel less terrible about playing to a hollow room, but also meant no CD sales after the gig. Dean, the owner, took pity on us and gave us the OK to abbreviate our second set.

I can’t pretend The Agora Show is worth the ethernet hassle of uploading. But I’ll do it anyway. No show is a bad show. They all contain lessons. The lesson from The Agora is undoubtedly about humility.

Detroit, MI – “No, Johnny Taylor is NOT my Father” – Inter Mezzos – August 21, 1999

Every tour we take along a single Budweiser and make it our mascot. We dub it “Skunk Buddy.” Over the course of a run of shows, the cooler heats up and cools down quite a lot making our Budweiser mascot SKUNK. The longer the tour, the skunkier our mascot gets. Whoever makes the biggest faux pas during the trip has to drink the beer. It’s become quite a ritual. The person who got “Skunk Buddy” the tour prior hands the Bud off to the next “screw up” at the end of the tour. Kenny was the first to drink “Skunk Buddy” after his little ‘peeing in a cup accident’ at The Howling Wolf in New Orleans.

I could hear our mascot rocking back and forth in the hot empty cooler as we got off I-75 for the 12. Detroit looked like a war zone. The buildings were boarded, gratified, barred, and locked. The streets were potholed, empty, and littered with detritus—cans, wrappers, glasses, and ghosts. Chaos crowned the eyes of children and loud echoing yells bounced off bricks and beams without apparent origin.

Stop Half- Loving These Women

Here’s what was weird. Just when we’d come to terms with the likelihood we’d be playing in some abandoned warehouse to an audience of wolverines, we pulled up to Inter Mezzos. The street it was on was an oasis in the city— lined with trees, and smiling, laughing faces. Inter Mezzos was like a flower growing through a crack in the pavement. As we pulled up, the sweet aroma of Italian cooking—oregano, yeast, tomatoes, and peppers—came wafting out at us.

Inside, the venue was sparkling clean—a sea of mahogany, old-world furniture surrounded by brick and mirrors. With a sigh of relief, we loaded in. A crew of young, handsome, African American men had assembled to help us and they enthusiastically hoisted our monitors and amplifiers telling me how much they loved my father’s music. I thought it outstanding that my middle-aged folk-singing father had made an impact on these young men from the inner city of Detroit but didn’t give it much more consideration until our soundman approached the stage.

“Where’s the singer gonna stand on stage?” he asked me.
“I’ll just stand here,” I said. He looked confused and respectfully tried a different angle,
“So, where’s Sally gonna stand?”
“I am Sally.” What ensued can only be described to those who’ve witnessed confused pugs.

Finally, the engineer said “But…but aren’t…I must be thinking about a different band…I… I thought Johnny Taylor was your father?”

Johnny Taylor, as it turns out, is a very prolific and very promiscuous blues musician. Apparently, he’s fathered nine known children with different mothers but I, so far as I know, am not one of them. I felt immediately apologetic that I wasn’t who the crew were expecting or hoping for.

“Um, well,” I said, worrying the venue booked us under the assumption I was someone else, “My ol’ man’s name is James Taylor.” I studied his expressions trying to estimate whether that was an acceptable alternative to Johnny Taylor. Finally he said,

“Oh, well that explains why you’re not black,” and we all laughed. “We were just told that Johnny was your pop…..OK, that’s all cool.”

But I still felt uncomfortable. I didn’t know how the venue had been advertising the show. What if everyone was coming to hear The Blues? Nick Capone, the owner, showed up an hour later and reassured me that we were, in fact, the band he’d intended to hire. He treated us to a grand dinner in his beautiful dining room. I ordered the halibut which Brian ate after scarfing his own meal down. That boy is always hungry.

Since the hotel was only two blocks away, we figured we’d check in, shower, and get back with plenty of time before the show. But boy was I wrong. At the hotel, as I self-consciously did my vocal exercises in an overly crowded lobby, Delucchi fought with the hotel manager who insisted he had no rooms for us. A newlywed couple stood beside him, in full suit and gown apparently unable to get a room either. It was hard to imagine that in a 70-floored hotel, there wouldn’t be a single room available. But what we didn’t know was that the annual “African World Festival” was taking place in town. We ran directly into the gridlock of it rushing back to the venue with 15 minutes to spare.

Entire neighborhoods were sardined into buses and young men, hanging out of cars were catcalling and shining flashlights on young women’s behinds walking down the street. Children, crammed in backseats of family vehicles, made faces at us through their windows. This wouldn’t have been nearly as awkward if we’d been moving any faster than .00001 miles an hour. We were late. The two blocks between the hotel and venue took us 45 minutes and with all the butt-flashlight shining and scary face-making kids, none of us were too eager to get out to walk.

I was ruffled as we rushed through our packed crowd to the stage. When I caught my breath and settled into the gig, I made a hysterical but potentially detrimental mistake. I introduced ‘Sign Of Rain’ and talked about how the song is about memories and how the rain plays a role in remembering my childhood.

1…2…3… Brian counted the song off, and without a second thought, I started playing “Waiting on an Angel.” I thought…’ boy, this is faster than we usually play “Sign of Rain.”’ I didn’t even realize I was playing the wrong song until I opened my mouth to sing “Seagulls circle ’round the shore line…” and ‘Waiting on an angel….’ came out. What’s worse is that ‘Waiting on an Angel’ is in the key of A flat and Sign of Rain is in E. I motioned to Soucy and Kenny, who’d recognized my error the second I started playing, that I’d just play the song by myself. But they were so on top of it that they’d already figured out how to transpose the song.

Needless to say, I am now the primary contender for this current tour’s “Skunk Buddy.”

Chicago, IL – “Rough-Rocker-Chick” – Shuba’s – August 20, 1999

The winds of August have had their way with July and are leading a violent revolt against September.

I find the sky at its very tallest in fall. As a child, growing up on the Northeastern Island of Martha’s Vineyard, I used to delight in watching nature’s ceiling grow deeper and darker as the calendar pages flipped from one month to the next. I imagined the sky, an upside-down swimming pool, growing darker blue as we moved from the shallow end of spring to the deep end of winter.

At Shuba’s, we ate our comped meal the crowded, sunny patio. I opted for a salad that came with an exuberant amount of creamy Italian dressing. The tails of fall breezes tangled in the hair I’d tried to tie back off my face. I had to rescue strands from my mouth between bites. College Boys in backward baseball caps, looking fresh off Abercrombie and Fitch shoots, cruised by in red convertibles. They ogled and cat-called pouting, glossed-up girls in outfits copied verbatim from last week’s episode of “Friends.”

Kenny’s sneezing fit began as he was finishing a plate of fried chicken. Furious, food-expelling sneezes erupted from his face in consecutive expulsions. I joked that he must be allergic to bad pick-uplines. His eyes watered and glowed red. The antihistamine I secured from the club stopped his allergies but put him into a zombie-like state for the rest of the night. He was hardly out of place, we were all a little out of it after our marathon drive from Boulder. I was slightly worried we’d forgotten how to play— it had been 3-weeks since our last gig.

I wrote a set list on the back of a receipt: WAIT, 40 YEARS, IN MY MIND, MARCH LIKE SOLDIERS, DEVORIN, WITHOUT ME, ONE STEP, RED ROOM, CONVINCE ME, FOR KIM, HAPPY NOW. I was shocked that the majority of what we now play are new tunes, not those on Tomboy Bride. I’d written the music on Tomboy Bride throughout my life. It’d taken 10 years to compile all the songs on that record. The contents of the next album will have been written in less than 6 months—birthed in backstage rooms and motels with glued-down furniture. It’s time to go back into the studio…November maybe, December.

In the dressing room upstairs, I agreed to let Kenny and Brian dress me for the gig. They insisted I needed to look more “rough-rocker-chick.” They had me try on four outfits before agreeing I looked “tough enough.” Next, Brian instructed me on my hairstyle — “Tie it back…now get some little wisps coming down on either side….no not too big….yeah that’s good…YEAH THAT’S GOOD!!!!” Brian and Kenny were very pleased with themselves as they studied my reflection in the mirror. Before I hit the stage, they added a pair of sunglasses.

The show was spectacular. Shuba’s got a stellar crowd and one of my best friends, Kate, drove all the way from Nashville, just to surprise me! Post gig, there was a two-hour-long line for CDs. I stood next to the merch table signing each disk by candlelight but my “rough-rocker-chick” heels were killing me. Gallantly, Jayson Sites (my dad’s lighting engineer who’d come for the show) gave me his leopard skin flip-flops and walked around barefooted the rest of the night. What a gentleman.

Toward 1 am, some very drunk guy came over, kissed me sloppily on my shoulder, stared at me through red glossy eyes, and walked away without a word.

It’s really good to be back on the road!!

Somewhere in Nebraska – “The House of Sod” – August 19, 1999

The Sod Museum was the highlight of our day. We stopped for gas at exit 211 in Nebraska and stumbled upon it, right there in the parking lot of the Texaco. It’s not that The Sod Museum is a wonder to behold or anything—save, anything that isn’t 100s of miles of flat road becomes wondrous in Nebraska.

A tiny, tightly wound woman met us at the museum door. Her hair was the color of Sunny Delight and her dark jeans were abundantly pleated in the front. She wiped lunch from the corners of her mouth with a cloth napkin and invited us in. She pointed out artifacts and posters and talked a mile a minute. “Those two jackets up there are bear skin,” she said, “and that one on the far right, that’s buffalo!” She laughed at our perplexed expressions. “All three of those coats are well over a hundred years each and that there is a giant mammoth tooth,” she pointed to a Rubix Cube-sized rock, “And all these artifacts were found right here in Nebraska, except those moccasins there. Those are from somewhere else I can’t remember. And outside you’ll see a giant buffalo sculpture made out of 4-miles of barbed wire and a house of sod with a roof of cactus. Go on out and have a look-see.” I love it when people say ‘have a look-see.’ Many find it redundant, but I find it endearing. The five of us thanked our hostess and drifted like tumbleweeds through Nebraska’s predatory heat to go ‘have a look-see’ at the house of sod.

It’s hard to believe we just finished a stint of 3 weeks at home—was it just a dream?—It feels as though we never left the road. While it certainly was a luxury to play a show and drive home, to my own bed, my own plants, my own books, my own closet with my own clothes in it, and to be able to take a bath without wondering who was in it last or to listen to music without headphones because no one else will hear it and tell you to turn it down, I missed the road.

In the 300-plus miles we’ve traveled thus far, away from Colorado, toward Chicago, we seem to have fallen pleasantly and without resistance into our comfortable road lives.
Kenny’s driving. Delucchi has his head propped against a pillow in the front row.

Soucy and Bri are eating junk food on the back bench….

and I’m riding shotgun.

There are bugs on the windshield and cramped, cold legs folded under me. The smell of cole slaw (or whatever it is that Kenny ate for lunch) permeates the air and Steely Dan’s “Here at the Western World” is on the stereo.

I am grateful— grateful for my life, my van, my band. I’m grateful I get to make music for a living and I am grateful that Brian is in the van and not on the road with Freddy Jone’s Band. I was worried he’d bail, but he’s good to his word and that means a whole heck of a lot to me.

Aspen, CO – “Faking it” -The Howlin’ Wolf – July 24, 1999

You never know about the loyalty of your bandmates. All you can do is commit wholeheartedly to them and hope they do the same for you.

It was a rainy day in Aspen and Delluchi took the mountain roads slowly in the damp, blue light.  Brian asked if he and I could meet up for coffee before the gig.  He wanted to discuss schedules.  I met him at a coffee shop near the venue and slipped into a booth like a well-worn jacket. Brian looked uncomfortable like he had to pee.  He didn’t beat around the bush.  He asked if I’d mind him doing some “fly dates” from next tour.  “No problem,” I said, “as long as they don’t conflict with any of our shows.” 

“A fly” date is a one-off played with another band.  A highly coveted musician, like Brian, might be offered compensation plus airfare to make another band’s gig while out on the road with their main act.  It’s common enough but feels akin to a spouse asking for an open marriage.  It’s a bit of a warning signal to a band leader that their bandmate is thinking about jumping ship soon. But not Brian.  We were too tight for me to have to worry about him… I thought.

The bigger problem was apparent as soon as Brian extracted his list of fly-dates from his coat pocket.  Most of the dates conflicted with our gigs and Brian shouldn’t have been surprised, as the majority were on weekends (the most well-paid dates for a band).  Screwing up his face and swallowing hard he prepared to answer my questions. 

“Who are these with?” I asked, wondering which band was ugly enough to poach my drummer right from under me.

“The Freddy Jones Band.” Brian was talking fast, the way an adulterous husband might admit his infractions to an angry wife.  And I was an angry wife.  Once you start touring as a band it is almost like a marriage. You’ve chosen each other as partners and invested time, energy, and money into knowing not only the songs by heart but each other’s hearts— your quirks and foibles, wishes and dreams.  You’ve committed to growing something special together and rejected others who’d wanted the gig. As a band, you become each other’s people. You’d do anything for one another—But it was becoming apparent that Brian might not see it that way.

“It’d be really hard to turn down these dates,” he told me, “they’re offering $400 a gig and flying me out.”

“You know, this doesn’t make me feel so good Brian.”  I kept my eyes down on the paper as though a volcano weren’t erupting inside me—as if I could see anything other than red. “You made a commitment to be on tour with me for August and September and after that, to make a new record with me and now you’re telling me, after dates have been contracted, that there are other things you’d rather do?”  I was at my boiling point.  “No, no, no Brian, this doesn’t make me feel so good.”  I was getting worked up and my voice was betraying my easygoing demeanor.  “You would go back on your word and leave me high and dry just ‘cause another band is paying more?  That’s shitty Bri.” 

Brian looked like something sad picked out of the one-dollar pile at a thrift store.  I felt sad and angry that I wasn’t enough for him—that my loyalty and commitment to him were unrequited. I went on, “I think it’s great you’re getting other jobs,” this was a lie—a last-ditch effort to appear laid back. “I support you to do your fly-dates, but not at the expense of shows you’ve committed to with me.  I don’t think you understand how many people’s schedules I have to juggle in order to make a tour happen Bri.  I go to each and every one of you well ahead of time to get your blackout dates—your weddings, birthdays, other scheduled jobs —and I accommodate all of them.” 

I handed back Brian’s Freddy Jones dates, extracted myself from the booth, took a deep breath, and closed my eyes.  The sound of warm laughter and cool jazz returned to the room.  I looked down at Bri, looking down at his paper, and said “Please respect your word.”

I knew it was the beginning of the end for us.  You can’t put that genie back in the bottle.  Once a new shiny band has started flirting with your drummer and that drummer’s flirted back, it’s hard to regain trust.  I just hoped Brian wouldn’t screw me over—that he’d keep his word and get us through September and the next record.  He said he would.  I trust him.  I have to.  I hugged him.  He felt slightly hollow.  I said I’d meet him at the venue and took a walk around town to soothe my nerves and reclaim my heart.

As I walked, the sky came down on me.  I didn’t care.  All I could think about was wanting to quit music and trying to find reasons not to.  The rain pounded on my head and I wondered how I’d pull myself together to play a concert in a few hours when I felt so utterly hopeless. People in their Aspen whites scrambled from outside tables, wine glasses still in hand.  I watched them duck under awnings, embarrassedly laughing, they pulled their slightly transparent clothing away from their bodies and took new seats inside.

The Howlin’ Wolf

The confidence and gusto I needed to perform was not in me. I met the band on stage a few minutes late, but I my tears along with my self pity had dried up. I refused to let anyone know how beaten I felt. I owed it to the rest of my band and to the audience who’d graciously filled up the joint to pull myself up by my bootstraps and that’s exactly what I intended to do.

“Sometimes you’ve got to fake it ’til you make it,” my mom’s always said. And sometimes faking it feels as hard as dragging your ass back from the dead. But you do it and then you do it again and again and again and that is what it’s like to be a struggling touring musician. There are no training wheels. You have to build your own wings as you’re falling from the sky. It’s a path full of broken hearts and bruises and fears and embarrassments and betrayals and then, there are moments of pure bliss—an unexpected break, a perfect gig, a bubble-induced laughing fit, a moment of true camaraderie and connection with your band and audience that surpasses any religious experience—and it’s enough. It’s enough to keep you afloat until the next time you have to fake it— for the next time you have to drag your ass back from the dead.