Boulder, CO – “Nisa” – March 16, 1999

Nisa’s been my best friend since I was 7.  We shared the same babysitter, Valarie Nuick, who wore vanilla bean essential oil, spoke softly and seemed to swallow her laughter before it escaped her lips.  She was young and fun and sometimes let us tag along to her retail job.   She worked at “The Song of the Reed,” a magical clothing store known on Martha’s Vineyard for importing Afghani jewelry and Middle Eastern textiles. 

On weekends Val would lug us into the store. She’d unbolt a door built into the stairwell, hand us two dull knives, and leave us to work breaking down boxes for a quarter an hour while she lit Nag Champa and put Jackson Brown on the tape deck.  Nisa was older than me by two years and the most glorious creature I’d ever seen.  Her skin appeared to emit flecks of gold.  I, on the other hand, was scrawny with gangly legs that threatened to tangle in the wind and cornsilk hair that disobeyed hairbrushes.  Nisa was beautiful the way goddesses and queens are beautiful.  She carried herself above the rest, looking out on the world ambivalently while braiding her heart in thorns and barbed wire.  Oh, how I dreamed of getting past her defenses and scoring the privilege of knowing her heart. 

Slowly, one box at a time, I gained her confidence.  Under the bare blub, under the “Song of the Reed” stairwell, we found occasions for laughter.  We discovered we were both boy-crazy and confided our crushes to one another. After flattening boxes, we played dress-up, admiring ourselves in floor-length mirrors wearing headscarves and beaded kaftans. We got drunk on incense. 

Before we could drive, Nisa and I would ride my tiny white pony bareback through the woods to meet up with her boyfriend.  “Gusty,” who was 30, spicy and infuriated at being made to trot two tittering teenagers around, often succeeded in bucking one or both of us off.  Barefoot, I’d wait outside Nisa’s boyfriend’s house to keep a lookout for grown-ups while she got to first base.

Later, we dated two brothers, the eldest of “The Blackdog” family.  Robbie and Jamie Douglas were windsurfers.  When Nisa got her licence we’d drive to meet them on the shore in her beefed-up black jeep. We’d stop at Dairy Queen and splurge on XXL rainbow sprinkle ice cream cones which would stick to our hair in the wind while we watched our brothers skip back and forth over the waves.  We daydreamed about marrying them and becoming sisters one day. Jamie is the one who “takes to downtown, brown suburban in the rain,” in Sign of Rain.”

Nisa came to all my Boggies shows.  She raided the island’s thrift stores and found ways of making polyester sexy.  And when I told her I was moving west, starting my own band and going on the road she said “When should I be there?”

“You’ll come out on the road with me?!?! Really?”

“Of course!  I’ll sell your merch for you and beat the boys away.”

“Well, come on then.”

She’s been with us since March 1st.  Having Nisa in the van is like having cotton candy for breakfast.  It’s fun, delicious, and slightly naughty.  Reunited we’re immediately 7 again, back under those stairs at “Song of the Reed,” getting bucked off my pony into puddles, picking rainbow sprinkles out of each other’s hair and daydreaming about what we’ll be when we grow up.  I am so blessed to have scored the privilege of knowing her heart.  I am so privileged to have her along on for the ride that is this life.

Martha’s Vineyard, MA – Fausta’s Shack – July 12, 1997

“So, you do or don’t think it’s crazy for me to consider a music career?” I ask my barefoot, hippie, moth-eaten sweater-wearing, therapist.  We’re in the shack we meet in weekly.  There are lace doily-like curtains in a single pane window and otherwise, no light in the damp hut.   I can’t believe I’m speaking these words out loud, let alone considering the possibility I might follow in my parent’s footsteps.  But I was recently in a plane accident in Peru flying in a small plane over the “Nazca Lines” where an oil tank unceremoniously flew off my side of the plane.  Before I could even wonder what happened, the propellers on either wing clamped still like a bear trap. 

The cabin went completely silent. I remember the acrid smell of stale cigarette smoke on a fellow passenger’s breath and thinking, with curiosity bated, “I wonder what happens next?” I watched the pilot, whose seat I sat directly behind, slowly stitch his shoulders to his ears.  There they dangled like frozen icebergs. Past him through the windshield, I saw what I thought must be a runway, a good sign I thought, until I noticed cars driving on it.  We would be forced to make an emergency landing on The Pan-American Highway. The angle at which we hit the blacktop was steep and made the plane jump and stumble like a drunk at a traffic stop.   As we slowed, our left wing hit a car.

Miraculously, no one was hurt, and a shaman who said he’d intuited the whole affair, climbed out from the back seat and rubbed blessing oil on each of us before helping us push the plane out of the road. Confronted with mortality, we hitched a ride back to the airport.   Two things were overwhelmingly clear in my mind. 

Before I leave the planet:

 1. I want to have a child.

 2. I want the songs I’ve written organized on a CD.

At sixteen I started waking up with lyrics and melodies in my head. Each morning throughout high school and into college I’d diligently retrieve them upon waking, weeding through the shrapnel of dreams and dusting off half-bent choruses and meandering verses.  I kept a sandwich-sized cassette recorder by my bedside and hit record immediately after hitting my alarm.  I would sing into it what I could groggily remember before teetering off to the rec hall for eggs and oatmeal.

My mom bought me a D-1 Martin guitar at “Manny’s” in Times Square in New York on a snowy weekend home from Brown during my freshman year. Overhearing some of my morning songwriting sessions she insisted I have a way to accompany myself.  Soon after I began performing some of my songs, securing a weekly local gig at “Z-Bar,” a smoke-filled sports bar on Providence RI’s legendary Wickenden Street.

As my life and death flashed before my eyes on that tiny plane in Peru, I imagined all those songs I’d written, those sweet little gifts from the depths of my unguarded night-time heartbeats, strewn across miles of cassette tape never to be finished or polished or probably ever heard from again and I wanted to finish them in a way I felt honored them.  But at what price?  It was pure madness to consider following in my famous parents’ musical footsteps.  Wasn’t it?

My therapist, her face cradled in a nest of wiry graying hair (1/2 of which I’m sure I put there), crooked her head in consideration.  Her eyes fix on the ceiling as though there were something other than a field of white up there and responded:

“No, not so crazy.” 

However she agreed that I should put some parameters in place to protect me from any potential success or failure.  Together we imagined some preliminary measures if I, in fact, ever decided a life in music was the right path for me…

  1. I shouldn’t be tempted to take the same path my parents had.  I should probably not sign a record deal (if one is ever an option for me) and instead get my hands dirty.  I should teach myself the ins and outs and the nitty-gritty of running a label myself before delegating roles to others.
  2. I should never read reviews.  This was my dad’s advice “If you believe the good reviews, you’ll believe the bad reviews when they come.  Best not to read them at all.”
  3. If at any time your ego gets in the driver’s seat don’t be afraid to “Jump Ship!”

But as I left my Fausta’s hut and walked barefoot back through the woods to my house I discounted my urge to record my own music.  I was happy enough playing with my disco band “The Boogies,” every Thursday night.  I didn’t need to put myself out there for the sake of some songs on a sandwich-sized tape recorder.  Or did I?