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The Joy of Trickery (This Is Not A Pipe)

In Newport, Kentucky just on the other side of the river from Cincinnati, Ohio sits a huge old mansion on a hill called the Southgate House.  When Abraham Lincoln visited the house it must have overlooked the beautiful Ohio river where you could watch the striped swimsuit bathers on the river beaches in the summers.  Now, The Southgate House overlooks Newport on the Levy, an enormous new development that is an indoor and outdoor mall flanked by fake Italian restaurants with freshly painted beige walls.  But inside the Southgate House history is everywhere; you can feel the ghosts in the cracked walls and see the aged framed portraits of mustachioed dead guys.  The word “House” is kind of misleading, as the structure underwent a massive extension to the back side at some point so that it now includes a massive ballroom.  The two-tiered room has red curtains and a speakeasy vibe, which seems appropriate when you learn that Frank Sinatra once performed on the stage where we would perform on December 17th, 2010.

To celebrate the release of my solo album Alchemy, i invited Chris Oberle, a Cincinnati area illusionist and conveniently a big July For Kings fan, to open the show.  My album Alchemy contains the word “magic” 50* times, so it seemed fitting that we would have a magician open for us.  * i just made that number up.

i had only communicated with Chris online.  Chris told me he had created his own tricks (sold by www.closeupartists.com) and crossed paths with David Blaine a few times.  Oberle seemed pretty legit so invited him to perform with us.  In the weeks before the event, Chris and i began hanging out and i got to see some amazing close-up magic.  in the first few minutes, i was a bit skeptical, as that is the natural human disposition toward magicians.  as Chris continued to perform i became a believer.  what is amazing is not only the quickness and thoroughness of his illusions but the sheer amount of tricks he can improvise with complete mastery.  cards move around, rings disappear, minds are read–and blown.  now i was feeling quite satisfied, having wrangled a real magician into performing with us at a mysterious, enormous and allegedly haunted house to celebrate the release of my dark new album.  naturally, i asked Chris the question i had been waiting my whole life to ask a magician: “can you make me disappear?”

flash forward to the evening of our Southgate House show, December 17.  by now i hope you know where this is going.  Chris performs a good opening set of illusions assisted by another magician Jason Jacobs, my friend and fellow singer/songwriter Samuel Lockridge plays an incredibly moving selection of original songs, and we are playing our set, which goes reasonably well.  I am performing with JFK members who had graciously agreed to learn and perform songs from my two solo albums Curvature and Alchemy.  Occasionally we are joined onstage by Chris as we attempt to weave some illusions into the music portion of the evening.  we closed the show with a song called “Magic”, the first track on Alchemy.  At the end of the song, there is a long dark instrumental section, which we extended for this show.  For the grand finale, Brian our bassist and John our guitarist leave the stage as my long-time drummer Dan McQuinn emerges from behind the drum set and begins wrapping me in a shiny purple cloth. This is the moment of truth.

at soundcheck, just a few hours before the moment of truth, we botched the illusion completely.

in the same way a rock band learns songs and practices them relentlessly until they are correct, Chris, Dan, and I rehearsed the illusion in the weeks leading up to the event until it felt right.  At first, we were instructed by a veteran Cincinnati area magician and escape artist, Phil Dalton, who Chris brought in to teach us the basics and give us pointers.  Once the trick began to shape up, we performed for John and Brian as they pointed out small mistakes until the illusion looked like real magic.  what i learned about stage and close-up illusions in the course of the few weeks during my pseudo-magician internship with Chris, is that there are few “magic” props that eliminate the need for human skill.  each trick requires a particular combination of timing, dexterity, and patience in different dosages.

all of that rehearsing seemed for naught when, with John and Brian watching again as the only two members of our audience, our sole attempt at the trick during sound-check at the Southgate House looked like an absolute joke.  we left the stage dejected.  the doors of the venue were opening and people began filing in so there was no time for another run-through.  John and Brian began expressing doubts that we should even attempt the stunt in front of a large crowd–it could be the most embarrassing, awkward ending to a concert ever.  but after a month of preparation, i decide we will take our chances and attempt to fulfill my dream of disappearing onstage, a dream that took hold when i was eleven as i watched David Copperfield perform live at a theater in Cincinnati with my father.

Where were we?  At the end of our last song “Magic”, Dan wraps me in a shiny purple cloth.  The audience is confused.  In literally a matter of seconds, the cloth drops to reveal not me but magician Chris Oberle standing on stage in my place, who points a finger and directs the audience to look up at me–standing in the balcony behind them!  a group of people standing in the balcony is completely oblivious until the moment of my appearance a mere five feet beside them.  they spin around and gasp saying “he is quick!” as the room fills with applause and the house lights come on.

“how is it done?” you might ask.  well, there are a lot of ways one might disappear and reappear or switch places with a magician: trap doors, body doubles, underground tunnels–we used none of these, honestly.  it was magic!  if i was talking about a song, i would tell you exactly how it was created, and that would enrich your experience.  this is not the case with magic tricks.

it is no coincidence that david blaine and chris angel and a host of other illusionists have enjoyed greater popularity in recent years.  we live in a paranoid society where missing the “real” truth could mean voting for the lying candidate, drinking from the water bottle that leeches toxic chemicals, or believing in a god that does not exist.  we no longer trust our government, our corporations, or our religious institutions.  And maybe we never did?  but access to a deluge of conflicting and vitriolic information has rendered us almost incapable of trust, and more vocal about our lack of faith.  ideology colors everything.  and as we slowly begin to realize that our ideologies are ephemeral and socially constructed, we cling ever more tightly to our precepts, lest they lose all of their fundamental power.

ironically, a magic trick gives us something to believe in.  we know it isn’t real, but as we are thrust into the moment, that suspension of disbelief is genuine refuge from the misery of postmodern paranoia.  and the real kicker is that the only consequence of being so completely fooled is pure joy–a net positive instead of a negative.

during my one-minute career as a performing illusionist i felt the rush that comes with breaking laws and rules, with doing something bad for the sake of being bad.  but we weren’t robbing a bank.  we were using lies and deception to bring joy into our own lives and into the lives of the audience.  as the supposedly magic purple cloth first touched my body, the timing was perfect.  it just felt right.  i knew we had nailed it.

but magicians are not the only weavers of illusion.  every act of creation is at once a truth and a lie.  every artist–including painters, songwriters, movie directors, poets, and so on–is a magician, an alchemist.  we take from reality and reconstruct a world that does not truly exist, a world that is a mere reflection, a lie of the “real” world.  we are thieves and liars of the best sort.  here is to the tricksters, to the craftsmen of ruses, to every act of amiable social deviance!  Thanks to Chris, my band, and everyone who came to the show and continues to support my music.

now you see me, now you don’t!

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Paris

i am in america looking out an airplane window at what must be a great lake. there is no horizon. the faded blue of the lake comes up into a band of white hazy clouds and becomes sky somewhere. this will be the last time i write from a plane, trian, or boat for a long while. i have been in five countries in two months. i have seen some of the greatest cathedrals and monuments and museums in the world and i am convinced i have met some of the nicest people on earth too. and i have done all this for little–not much more than my usual cost of living at home, assisted by a small art scholarship and a handful of hospitable friends and fans who graciously let me into their homes and sheltered me and fed me and escorted me around in exchange for me singing my simple american songs. for a month i have been a kind of traveling minstrel, and i have been fortunate to find small audiences and even more fortunate to now consider them close friends. my world has gotten smaller and larger at once. i see myself as more american than i ever, but more than that i have thought about the common humanity of other cultures and the things that transcend country lines, things like music, art, food, family, and friends.

in paris i stayed in a cheap but decent hotel in montmartre, an area of town which is famous in part for the moulin rouge and the behemian culture of artists it helped to inspire. artists as varied as Talousse Latrec, Salvador Dalí, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh all lived or worked in montmartre at some point. the clubs in montmartre are some of the seediest in the world, and the area remains as unpredictable and dangerous as it must have been for talousse latrec in 1900. pigalles and the boulevard de clichy strip is a far cry from the cleanliness and cheeriness of the red light district in amsterdam. the moulin rouge, however, now attracts large groups of tourists to its nightly shows and to its brightly lit red exterior where americans pose for photographs and think of nicole kidman.

my first day in paris i went straight from the train station to the hotel and then to the louvre. at the louvre i only had a few hours so i went directly to the mona lisa first. the image is so well known to me that i spotted it from within another large room when it was just the size of an ant. there, masses of asian people swarmed around pushing and shoving with cameras trying to get a photo of themselves in front of the painting. i stood there for probably five or ten minutes, longer than anyone else in that time period. i am not sure anyone was really looking at it but only looking at the idea of the mona lisa–the most famous painting in the world. i have never seen anything like it. it was as if brad pitt had just stepped out of a limo. never had mona lisa’s knowing smile seemed so hilariously perfect to me, as if saying “can you believe this?” i almost wonder if davinci anticipated this kind of scene, or if the response was similar in the quattrocento. slowly i worked my way to the front and center and became the silent motionless eye of a tornado of ridiculous excitement. and there i decided: yes. it is one of the very best, a perfect painting. the right kind of atmosphere, mystery, beauty. despite becoming a cliche and a tourist trap, the mona lisa remains a timeless masterpiece. and even if it’s only in that one corner of france, somewhere for some reason people still get very excited about colored pigment on a flat surface. that makes me smile too.

that night i had paris by night tour and a drink and an open faced french sandwich with my first ever french friend benjamin (who shares my exact birthday) and his wife. they drove me around to show me monuments and important buildings, a tour which would have been impossible in one day on foot. i was still tired from my trip from lyon so that night in montmartre i slept like a baby from babyville despite the sounds of young artists drinking and laughing drifting through my open window into the late hours.

yesterday, tuesday, was my very last day in europe. i went to the Musée d’Orsay, perhaps the second most famous museum in the world after the louvre. the orsay was at one time the most modern train station in paris, now it is home to many of the best works ever from the impressionists and post-impressionists. there i saw monet, manet, corbet, and many other artists whose names end with et but are pronounced ay. most of the artists at the orsay walked the line between tradition and modernity. i think that is the job of every artist.

what would you do, if you had just one more night in europe after a two month adventure? i took a cab to the eifel tower to get there fast enough to catch the sunset. i walked on the lawn weaving through young and old bodies kicking soccer balls and drinking wine on blankets. i found a patch in the grass with a good view and bought a bottle of cold champagne from a vendor. i watched the sky turn from blue to pink to dark blue to black and the tower turn from orange to night and the lights come on. i made an effort to reflect on everywhere i had been and all the things i had done. my thoughts turned to home. after sitting around by myself for a couple hours i finally had the guts to approach a young guy sitting by himself with a backpack. i assumed he was a solo traveler like me.

“do you speak english?” i asked
“yes” he said with an accent i could not place.
“do you want a glass of champagne? i had to buy a whole bottle but i won’t drink it all.”
“sure!” he said with genuine enthusiasm, so i sat down.
“this is going to be the last conversation i have in europe,” i told him and we talked for an hour or so. i would learn that he was from quebec, canada, and spoke a form of french that could not be understood by french people living in france. it was his very first night of a european adventure. he had just found his way from the airport.
“i saw the eifel tower so i thought that would be a good place to start!” like me when i arrived, he had no return plane ticket, and only a rough idea of what he wanted to see. so with unspoken poetry, i passed the torch. the eifel tower, i thought, is a good place to end.

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Frogs in France

i am on a train cutting a path through the beautiful french countryside going faster and faster. today i am traveling from a village outside of lyon, france to paris. it is a high speed train and now the meaning of high speed is becoming clearer as it shakes like a space shuttle. this is an odd way to travel through such a slow moving landscape. the country rolls and sways in patches of sunny green and yellow with gentleness. the word beautiful does not do it justice. perhaps the the french words for beautiful, belle and beaux are so short because there are so many things in france that need to be described this way.

when i arrived in lyon i was greeted by Jérémy, a longtime supporter of mine and a big american music fan. if not for his thick french accent i could have taken him for an ohioan–he wears cut-off tee-shirts, sunglasses and sandals and walks with the casualness and unhurriedness of someone who lives in the country. he is average height and about my age. from the airport we drove to lyon, the second largest city in paris although maybe you haven’t heard of it and i really hadn’t either.

we took a funiculare (that is the italian word but i cannot remember the french word) to the top of a mountain and looked out at lyon from the foot of a the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, a castle-like cathedral that can be seen from anywhere in the city. lyon (pronounced kind of like lee-own) is sprawling and not very tall, the way most old european cities are. it has one or two or three skyscrapers and a river snaking through many clay roofed buildings looking like tan and red-orange legos dropped onto a green shag carpet fading into the hills in the hazy distance. french cities and villages look a lot like italian cities and villages and when i noticed this Jérémy reminded me that italy is not far–they are both southern europe. the language and culture however, could not be more different. in europe you can travel less than an hour and find that everyone speaks a different language and eats different food and even in the same country they greet each other with a different amount of kisses and in a different order from left to right. in america, i told Jérémy, “you can drive for 20 hours and see the same stores, meet the same kind of people, and speak exactly the same language.”

we found our way to the art museum in downtown lyon kind of by accident. Jérémy had never been to the art museum and didn’t know where it was. i just assumed as we were walking that there would be an art museum and it would be a good one since we were in a large french city after all, and the french impressionists and post-impressionists had made arguable the most important contributions to painting ever. sure enough, in the most historic area of town we found it. unfortunately the beautiful old stone building did not have air conditioning, or the air conditioning was out of order. on one hour of sleep (as i had played a late acoustic show in london the previous night), the heat was quite uncomfortable. but i was in france dammit, and i was determined to see some great paintings. we wandered through room after room and made our best conversation considering Jérémy has only some interest in art and my tiredness made it difficult to communicate anything with enthusiasm.
“i will sleep when i get to america,” i told him when he realized how short the previous night must have been. between blinks of sweaty tired eyelids i saw some monets and pissaros and vuilliards and bonnards and other artists that i know a little more about than a lot of french people. i thought about trying to make a list of all the art museums i have been to in the last two months and realized what a daunting task this will be.

so i can name some french artists and what their main contributions to painting were. that is the only thing that prevents me from feeling completely ignorant in the company of french people.
“do you know our president?” Jérémy asked me and i responded “no” with a little embarrassment (it’s Nicolas Sarkozy, btw). but that is why people travel, right? to learn things? later that night his friends and family members would ask me questions like
“do you know our music?” or give me the name of some french singer or movie star who i could not place. france, we wikipediaed, is about the size of texas, although maybe the french know much more about texas than texans know about the french. i think that is a safe bet, if george w. was any indication. i told them that austin texas, is a current american center of progressiveness and that there area always exceptions to stereotypes. as as sidenote, the french have never heard of grey poupon.

these kind of conversations, not unlike the conversations i had in germany, holland, and england, were nearly constant for the next two days as we ate and drank and wandered around the beautiful old towns and villages of saint-clair-du-Rhône, Saint-Pierre-de-Boef, and Chavanay, described by the official website as a pleasant village at the foot of Mount Pilat. the Rhône river weaves through the area and is so blue-green it is like a ribbon strip of water cut directly from the fabric of the ocean.

Jérémy lives with his wife blondina (a local name) who is one of those people who glows warmly like a sun, and two beautiful daughters in a typical french house with stucco walls and the red-orange roof, a house they built themselves recently. sitting in the backyard you can see vineyard-covered mountains. every inch of available hillside in this area of france is covered with grapevines. over the weekend we would spend many hours in the backyard eating bread, cruissants, pork, frogs, snails, duck, more bread, patte, drinking local wines and watching the sun set behind the vineyards.

Jérémy’s friend jeff is the most french man i have ever met. maybe i am not qualified to make that kind of assessment as an american. but with the limited knowledge i acquired in three days i think it is true and i said so the other night and nobody at the table argued. jeff is pensive and stoic, with a knowing smile, very dark hair and a stubbly face. he is a jazz piano virtuoso and an amazing chef.
“everything jeff does, i do,” i said as jeff applied a large amount of homemade mayonnaise to his duck medallion and i did the same on my plate. i would follow his lead in matters of food and wine pairings throughout the weekend.

jeff’s father grows grapes and jeff worked on a nearby vineyard for three years when he was younger. the vineyards that cover the Rhône-Alpes area of france are planted on extremely steep mountainsides and hillsides that makes harvesting hard work, work that is more akin to mountain climbing–complete with a pack on your back of sticky bunches of grapes–than it is farming. it is hard to overestimate the importance of wine in french culture.

the weather is the greatest enemy of all farmers and winemakers are no exception. in some areas of france, upon the first signs of hail–which would utterly destroy a crop, authorities will launch missiles into the air to break up the ice balls. yes, missiles. i guess this is called cloud seeding and is used for various purposes in different parts of the world, but i cannot imagine a defensive military maneuver being a component of winemaking in the united states.

jeff’s father has thousands of bottles of homemade wine locked away in a cellar, bottles which would be illegal to sell on the french market since the vineyard is unlicensed.
“then what will you do with all of it?” i wondered.
“drink it. we are hoping that maybe we will inherit some of it,” jeff said. “when i was sixteen i learned about wine. i kicked the door open with my foot and stole some bottles. you can still see the…on the door. what’s the word?”
“footprint,” i said.

my acoustic guitar, which was lost in London by the airport, eventually found its way to Jérémy’s house. saturday evening i played a living room concert for Jérémy, his wife, jeffs wife nathalie and their daughter Charlotte, a wide-eyed fifteen year old who wears a lot of colors and is quickly learning english, and a handful of other friends. Jérémy plays the guitar and teaches guitar lessons, his wife blondina is an excellent singer and toured with a choir, and their friends are music teachers and pianists and clarinetists et cetera. i was a bit intimidated in a room full of musicians but i played well enough and everyone seemed to enjoy it. afterwards, they played some of their french and english songs for ME and we played some cover songs together.

“good bread, good cheese, good wine.” those are the perfect ingredients for a happy french person according to Jérémy. that combination made for one happy american too and last night my happiness was mixed with the knowing sadness of the impending end. Jérémy and company told me that maybe the french as a romantic people was just a stereotype. but that night with Jérémy and his loving family and friends with our stomachs full of the most amazing food and drinks, lying on our backs looking up at a clear warm sky translating words like milky way and satalites to french and english as we spotted shooting stars, i cannot think of a better word.

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tastes of england

i am sitting in a holding pen on a runway on lyon, france. i flew on the low cost express airline easyjet across the english channel from london. easy jet is not at all an easy way to travel although it is a jet, as far as i can tell. you can only bring up to 20 kilograms of luggage, it can cost over 100 euros to check bags, and they make you wait in line after line in the airport of departure and now on the runway where i have arrived. i’m in a white tent with other passengers; it is as if we have some disease and have been quarantined. i have never waited so long on a runway just to enter an airport and i’m now realizing the wait must be because of customs and i guess they are actually worried that we might have a disease. but i do not.

*** update the airports or airlines have lost my acoustic guitar. i was forced to check my guitar and it has not arrived from london to lyon. we shall see how this shakes out. but the day is a beautiful day and the sky is a perfect blue to white gradient, a vast improvement from dreary london.

i try not to stereotype. one stereotype i had hoped to disprove is that the british do not have good food. in every place i have visited i have made an effort to try the local cuisine and england is no exception.

on the front cover of the menu at wetherspoon pub, a successful chain of pubs perhaps equivalent to applebees in the states, was a beautiful photo of a dish called a Ploughman, which includes a Melton Mowbray pork pie, a special kind of pork pie which comes from a specific region of england. the picture on the menu is the classic restaurant food picture: the light is perfect and the depth of field is very narrow allowing the focus to be on the pie while the side dishes have a bit of atmospheric blur as if all the components are in some kind of dreamy food heaven beckoning you to taste. i was confident that the featured entree at one of the most popular restaurants in england would be delicious.

when it arrived it was cold, which is the traditional way to serve it. okay. but it tasted slightly like sausage, except with almost no flavor. i thought maybe sausages were just flavorful by nature, as they are in germany or the usa, but i guess there is a way to make pork into sausage while making sure no flavor accidentally sneaks in. maybe they have a strainer which removes the flavor. between the cold pork substance and the cold crust there was a layer of what appeared to be some kind of industrial window caulk or perhaps animal fat that had congealed into a hard murky gelatin. in short, weatherspoon’s Ploughman was one of the worst entrees i have encountered in europe. but i ate almost all of it because i was hungry and i slightly enjoyed the humor in it, knowing it would at least make a good bad food story later.

having little luck with restaurant food i turned my search to grocery store cookies and candy. one of the most popular cookies here in england are “digestives”. the label says “Digestives” in white lettering against a bright red background and underneath “Dark Chocolate”. “Digestives” has got to be the worst name for a cookie i have ever heard. for me, and i don’t think i am alone here, digestion is what happens after i eat. before i eat, i don’t need to think about digestion. if you’re going to call your product digestives why not take it a step further and call them “poopers” or maybe “excramentives”? i guess it’s hard to know where to draw the line, but where i draw it is with chewing or before. charleston chew–acceptable. charlston esophogus slider…eh, on the cusp.

i did have one delicious plate of fish and chips, naturally. but i think it is safe to say that england is not known for it’s cuisine.

however, none of this is or was the fault of my kind british companions tom and joe, two brothers from Bushey, just outside london. tom and joe cannot singlehandedly affect the food taste crisis their country seems to be undergoing, but they were kind enough to put me up at their place and show me around. tom introduced me to “revels”, my new favorite candy. they are like american whoppers, milk duds, raisinettes, chocolate orange, and one other thing that i cannot remember all in the same package. and it is a surprise which flavor you will get! so for someone like me who enjoys surprise and adventure, it is a wonderful mini taste odyssey that is predictable enough to be pleasing but unpredictable enough to be exciting, the same way a great pop song works. after talking for two days, tom suggested that i buy some revels for my band mates john and dan. my bassist brian ives, however, gets the more consistent tasting “Maltesers” because of his occasional aversion to fun.

we spent one evening with tom’s parents and found that we had a great deal in common. for my sake tom’s father did some independent research focused on Bushey’s rich art history which included Von Herkemmer, a german immigrant who was a painter and filmmaker and founder of an important art school in Bushey, and Lucy Kemp-Welch, the illustrator of the original edition of the classic equine book, “Black Beauty”. the next day at the very small Bushey museum, i saw several enormous canvases of masterfully painted horses, and one smaller quick painting by Lucy Kemp-Welch of a horse and horse owner near the Santa Trinita, a bridge in florence italy where i studied art last month. my eyes saw the painting but i did not feel it until my heart recognized it as florence and a bolt of something came through me, one part longing for florence and one part appreciation. the painting is actually just a sketch for a larger work, and although the sketch is lonely and nearly forgotten in a dusty corner of a small town museum it is masterfully executed in a fresh, quick style, which i prefer to her larger canvases which occasionally feel belabored. but me as an american looking at the little painting of florence italy executed by an english artist who was trained by a german i felt a connection with all these different places i have been and times i have studied and the entire history of creatively minded artists and adventurers and in this moment i knew for certain that i was on the right path.

that night i played an acoustic show at the Dublin castle, a famous bar in london which hosted acts such as Madness, Travis, and Blur as they were getting off the ground. i played one of my better acoustic sets in a while, complete with one-night-only trumpet and trombone accompaniment from tom and joe, respectively, for the song “mitral valve prolapse”. tom and joe are both extremely talented university trained brass musicians. unfortunately, i started the song a half step too low but i just went with it and forgot to let tom and joe know. joe is one of the rare human beings with perfect pitch and knew immediately my mistake while tom, who like me does not hear pitch as well as a robot, was left to struggle through the first chorus until it became clear to him what i had done. but by the second chorus everything came together in a triumphant brassy rendition that was truly special.

i am here in lyon, france for three days.

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gemütlich

i have just been awoken from an afternoon nap by three housekeepers here at a hostel in frankfurt. they come in like a swarm of fat sweaty bees moving quickly and flapping blanket wings around the room and then they are gone. it is a cleaning attack. with all the speed and precision and single-mindedness of an attack. this is my last night here.

i am german! probably 50% german at least, anyway. i never thought much about it until very recently–two days ago actually, when i arrived here in germany. i feel at ease around these people. these are my people. honestly, i was never much interested in my german heritage before. beer steins and oktoberfest celebrations and sausages–these things are so common in cincinnati that i have taken them for granted or dismissed them as contrived. after all, most of my experiences with german looking buildings have been in theme parks.

now that i have seen some towns and met some people, i get it. the german celebrations and traditions we have in cincinnati are not novelties or exploitations but are truly ingrained into our heritage as a people with a great deal of german blood in our veins. my mother’s maiden name was german and my grandfather spoke fluent german. so after a month in dreamy otherworldly medieval cities in italy, frankfurt feels very much like home. the potato salad they serve here is a lot like my mom’s potato salad (the best potato salad in the tri-state). the franks and sausages remind me of being at a red’s game or in a friend’s backyard. the beer is delicious and so is the local apfelwine and apple cider. everything has a familiar quality to it: the way germans gather and eat and drink, their congeniality and humor, et cetera. there is a germany word for which there is no english equivalent: gemütlich. it means comfortable, cozy, warm, et cetera. that is what i have felt the last few days in the wonderful company of my german pen pal turned real-life friend markus.

for my first few nights in germany Markus and his girlfriend Laura graciously offered to put me up in their quiet town of bad nauheim, so named for the baths (bad) there, or hot springs. over the weekend they took me to see a small castle completely devoid of tourists. there Markus told me the local lore and legends of the mad men sculptures that switch places at midnight but can only be seen by those who have never told a lie (Markus has seen them switch twice he claims), and the man who was killed by a boar tooth for not trusting his wife’s intuition about a dangerous hunting trip. it was an incredibly intimate tour of the towns Bad Nauheim and Büdingen, places which no american tourist would see if not in the company of a local.

the three of us have had a wonderful time together and i think we will remain close after i leave despite the large atlantic ocean between us. however until greeting me at the train station Markus and i had never met face to face. coming from work he wore a perfectly starched white shirt and shiny black shoes and black slacks. he is a young businessman. he is about my height but much stronger and with almost black hair and piercing blue eyes. he is truly german and german looking but he speaks better english than i do in a direct professional manner, which was slightly intimidating at first. there are a great deal of younger germans who have been taking english classes since they were kids. they speak british sounding english with only a slight german accent. Markus’s girlfriend Laura girlfriend speaks english very well too as she lived in the states for a few years playing tennis during college. since i arrived they have spoken english most of the time as a courtesy, even when addressing each other. i asked them if they would be relieved to speak german again when i left and they said no, that they really enjoy speaking english occasionally.

to my surprise, markus and a lot of germans agree with americans in thinking that the german language sounds clumsy and harsh. i have also learned that it is very difficult to compose songs in german, which is one reason germans like american music so much. markus played me music from a german band that sounded very american. when their fans discovered that the band was german and not american, their record sales declined dramatically. not only is the sound of american music important, but it’s americanism gives it an authenticity. music and entertainment in general is surely one of america’s greatest exports and something that we can remain proud of despite our other exports which include preemptive wars, oil spills, mcdonalds, et cetera. american music is a positive, meaningful force in the lives of many europeans and i am happy to be here as a representative.

if there is one thing that breaks down cultural barriers it’s alcohol. but if there is another thing–and this is the thing i was going to say when i started that previous sentence–it’s the arts. american music is as important now to europeans as the european visual arts have been to americans since the late 1800’s. yesterday in frankfurt i saw a retrospective show of one of my favorite painters Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. without the german expressionists there would have been no neo-expressionists and i would not be able to paint in the way that i like to paint. in the 1920’s Kirchner and his friends founded the group die brüke, the bridge, to bridge the old german art with the new avant guard art. (as a sidenote i met someone today whose grandfather hung out with the Blue Rider, the other famous group of expressionists in germany). Kirchner and his friends spent a lot of time sitting around his bohemian loft smoking cigarettes and looking at african sculptures. they painted and drew young girls, often their girlfriends or other artists, from life in poses that were considered unacceptable by the academic art would at the time. his paintings are mostly figurative, although they can be quite flat and abstract. at first glance they seem child-like but retain an underlying sophistication of color and texture through layered paint application. if there is one thing that will really stick with me about the show, it is the way he used layers. most of the paintings are visceral and quick as if the artist was possessed with the desire to capture the moment. these paintings were done in the 1920’s or before but a lot of them still seem contemporary. it is good timing that this show is here when i am here since a retrospective of a german painter like Kirchner will probably never happen in america, especially in cincinnati where, 100 years later, people still seem to have little tolerance for abstraction in painting.

Kirchner was quite popular in his own day. when Hitler rose to power Hitler staged the “degenerate” art show. the show was a place for germans to come and look down on or literally laugh at artworks that hitler dubbed primitive or degenerate or bad. hitler included kirschner’s works in the degenerate show and had over 600 of Kirchner’s paintings removed from museums around germany, including many at the famous museum here in frankfurt where the retrospective was staged, the stadel museum, which was loved by Kirchner. can you imagine being an aging artist, having accomplished so much and to have it all taken away by some crazy fuckhead who liked killing people who look different? this must have been the most terrible feeling, some combination of rage, disbelief, depression. surely it was, because when the Nazi’s finally arrived some 20 miles away from Kirchner’s house in what he thought was a secluded part of austria, Kirchner shot himself twice in the heart.

if you ask an american about germany and say what comes to mind they would probably say nazis. this is unfortunate but true and germans know this. i have seen so many movies about the nazis but no movies that i can recall about actual nice german people doing nice german things in their german way like eating breads for breakfast and afternoon cakes with coffee and eating sausages as if they are candycanes and laughing and toasting prost! the way they do everyday. germany as a country has been conflicted about her own patriotism until very recently. what could possibly ease the tremendous lingering emotional burden of the nazis? there is one thing that has united these people more than any other force, a thing that has finally given germans the right and confidence to proudly stand up and wave their yellow black and red flags and yell deutschland! that thing is soccer.

the world cup happens only every four years and is the most important thing in europe. more important than the mona lisa. on wednesday i had the great pleasure of watching germany play a quarter final game against argentina at markus’s brother Sven’s house. sven is stocky but not overweight with a good laugh that occasionally shoots off like a projectile weapon of joy, and a good sense of humor which is made even better by his accent.

this was a family gathering that reminded me so much of my own family gatherings at home i would have forgotten i was in another country if not for the occasional shouts at the tv of nein nein nein! when the other team approached the german goal. there were children running around the house, extended family doing dishes and cutting cakes, a dog eating tennis balls in the backyard and sausages coming off the grill all night. i ate well and smoked a cuban cigar, had some incredibly smooth prune brandy from Ziegler which was probably expensive (my mostly german grandmother loved brandy), and drank hefeweizen. there must have been fifty german flags in the house and all over the cars outside and on tee-shirts and noisemakers but in the corner there was one american flag. it is one of only a few american flags i have seen since i left america. sven and his family are quite fond of america. they have visited kentucky and vacationed in florida and love doritos.

when germany scored its fourth goal and went on to win four to zero the house was absolutely ecstatic, beaming with such positivity that everyone found it hard to sit down and there i was the lone american a smiling witness to this nationally important event, wearing a lei with german colors and i cheered and felt more german than i ever have. that night on the back porch i sang and played songs on the acoustic guitar for the family. sven and i had it worked out that i would play them one of my songs for every sausage or beer i consumed. i played for a while. the kids clapped their hands but germans can only clap on the 1 and 3 so i played songs that way until they grew tired and slowly drifted to sleep as we smiled and breathed in the summer air feeling gemütlich.

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cittadellarte, biella puts the fun in funiculare

i have arrived in biella, a small town in the northwest of italy. biella itself is quaint but the landscape is dramatic. they call it the piedmont region, the foot (pied) of the alps mountains (mont). if you are at someone’s feet you are generally worshiping them or washing them or kissing them or doing something that requires a bit of humility. the mountains here are looming so high and sharp like the devil tried to punch holes through a steel earth from the inside with fists of ice daggers. with that intimidation factor in mind, being at the mountains’ feet is a perfectly appropriate way to think about it.

when i stepped out of the taxi here in the gravel lot of cittadellarte, i felt as if i was in some kind of top secret military outpost. a few people were standing around staring at me from the surrounding white buildings while i waited for a tumbleweed to blow by. it never came and eventually i found my way up some stairs to a small group of people with macbooks looking at a presentation in a large white room. the network of buildings known as citadellarte is not an italian military outpost but an old wool mill which has been converted into a several affiliated ventures including art galleries, a gift shop, a cafe, a clothing line, an architecture firm that uses only biological building materials, and an artist residency program. the residency is an annual four month long gathering of a handful of talented young artists, economists, and activists from all of the world working under the supervision of an elusive, eccentric but charismatic man with a white beard who slightly resembles sean connory and calls himself michelangelo pistolleto. he has recently published a book entitled the third paradise, about his new vision for the future of the human species. i’m not making that up. cittadellarte houses all of his pet projects.

the staff prepared me a room for two nights. i feel privileged to be here since overnight stays are only available for friends of the artists and the staff. my friend maggie is the only other american here. i had dinner the last two nights at the most international table i have ever sat at with fellow artists and thinkers from palestine, scotland, bulgaria, et cetera, with diverse skill-sets all speaking english at different levels of fluency. why this reminds me of the X-men i do not know. it’s not nice to pick favorites, but i’m not always nice and my favorite person here is Alioum, from Cameroon Africa. he is about my age, tall, shy, and dark of course with a huge toothy smile. he is well dressed and the kind of person you can tell is smart because their brain shines slightly through their eyes. he and i spent most of this evening listening to, discussing, and playing music. in Cameroon, shepherds play a two stringed instrument for their cattle and for themselves when they are lonely. although not a shepherd he plays a little. coincidentally (although Alioum doesn’t believe in coincidences) we found a guitar with only two strings sitting in a corner of a room downstairs. he played it for me the best he could although it had only a slight resemblance to his native instrument. then we watched youtube videos of african artists and i played them back to him by ear with my guitar the best i could, to his great amusement. i now have a good list of West African singers to download out on itunes. Alioum is a painter as well as conceptual artist.

my american friend maggie is not an artist in the typical sense of the word; she more closely resembles pistolleto’s conception of creator as an agent of social change. what is an artist anyway? a contemporary artist is someone who makes art for other artists and rich people. artists know, but they don’t often admit it, that facebook is more entertaining than something you have to stare at for an hour to wrap your head around. maybe there are more important roles in society for people who like to call themselves an “artist”? rather than or in addition to creating something strange and avante guard for its own sake or the sake of a shrinking number of art fans, contemporary artists could make things that bring about social change through the way they are made or the way they are viewed or work within society. that is what maggie seeks to do here through developing “assignments” that force the participants to think about their role in society and their interconnectedness with other cultures and the species at large. i participated in one of them today. it was hard for me to understand all this at first too but just trust me there’s some shit going on here that is probably important.

* * *

biella is a small town with all the amenities of any italian small town including gelato, espresso, pizza, parks, piazzas, piadina kebabs and other things that begin with the letter p. but as best i can tell the most exciting part is the funiculare, and i know this because people would say “have you been to the funiculare yet”? we don’t have an english word for it so i didn’t understand what it was at first. but i heard it was so cheap it was almost free and i was sold by the first syllable anyway: fun. funicolare is pronounced funny colARE ay, which is kind of like funny car. and it turns out that funiculare means inclined train–basically a ski lift. so i bought a map and found my way to the edge of town. behind a large church near a park there is a rusted archway with faded letters on it saying funiculare. i walked under it into a small room with a turnstyle and two sets of tracks with two suspended wonkavators. oddly, i was the only one there; there was no attendant and were no other would-be passengers but the wonkavator door was open. so i walked in and sat down. nothing happened. i looked around and saw a big red button inside the car near the front window. now i already i know what you’re thinking: “whatever you do, don’t push the red button!” and that is what i was thinking too. despite not being able to understand a single word of the sign in italian by the button but i was overwhelmed by this urge to push it, which is what always happens when people are near red buttons and why i think they should never be red unless, and this has just occurred to me, that making it red was a secret ploy to get foreigners to push it. just then my right hand extended its index finger on its own and moved my arm toward the button and pushed it. immediately a loud alarm when off and without thinking i scrambled out of the car as the doors almost closed on me. the magic doors must have sensed my presence in the doorway because they re-opened. a few seconds later i reconsidered and walked back inside. the alarm went off again and this time, i let the doors close me inside the car and finally it began ascending the hill with me inside turning round and round to make sure i saw out every window. the button is indeed the button to make the car go and at the top there is an attendant watching video surveillance of the bottom. this must be one of the best jobs in biella since i am sure once a day someone like me walks in there and the attendant has a good laugh and then a couple minutes to wipe their smile off as the car ascends. it cost me 30 euro cents and was well worth it for the view of the misty town surrounded by misty mountains, or the feet of mountains.

right now i am on a train traveling from italy through switzerland where i will catch a connection in zurich and finally arrive in frankfurt germany. the roofs of the houses are going from red to brown, the bars to pubs and the landscape is becoming steadily more incredible as we pass lakes and enormous snow covered mountains. after a month of italian, i think it will be refreshing to hear another language even it if it is not my own.

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cinque terra

35401_10150221112925006_4031549_ni woke up today to another rainy day in florence. i have been mildly depressed lately missing my girlfriend, my family, my cats, my bandmates and the rain does not help. i was fifteen minutes late getting out of bed and almost missed the train. the station was wet and cold and full of screeching brakes and the cacophony of african and european languages dissolving into complete nonsense which is occasionally funny in the way that a word becomes funny and turns to nothing if you say it over and over again. on the first train it rained most of the three hour ride. at the station where we finally transferred it was cold and wet and more cold and i was regretting not bringing a jacket. the second and final train to the Cinque Terra (chinkwa-tear-a: five lands) was a quick ride. as we entered a long tunnel it was so gross out i felt as if i had picked the worst possible day to make the trip, and was thinking i would rather be in a movie theater or still in bed. just then the train came rushing out of the mountain and blackness turned to the most beautiful ocean shining so bright from the sun every stranger in our train car literally cheered outloud, our eyes turning to funnels. to the left blue sky, waves and white diamonds shrinking into a hazy horizon and to the right pink and yellow rectangular houses in impossible stacks upon stacks on cliffsides like shoeboxes in a display window. the day would remain one of the most beautiful days i have ever experienced and there was not a drop of rain and hardly any clouds until we passed back through the mountain that night. this seems like a laughable exaggeration even to me now as i type but unless i have fallen under some italian spell have been dreaming and sleeptyping, i swear to god that today i traveled by train through a magical mountain and was transported to a secret realm of timeless, perfect beauty.

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a roaring pagan sun

i am now on a bus from ostia to Firenze (florence) italy. i have had many adventures and taken many pictures in rome. just when i was starting to get comfortable there i have to leave. i will go back. i have always loved being in big cities, especially big cities with subways. rome is probably the most beautiful city i have ever seen. it is like new york or chicago in its business and touristiness, but i think the locals walk slower and seem to enjoy life a little more. it would be hard not to when you are surrounded by such beauty and history. it is inescapable. you cannot walk more than a few blocks without stumbling upon something extraordinary.

i visited the Pantheon (pan- many, theos- god) the other day. i have been looking at pictures and drawing this building since i was fifteen but nothing can compare to the experience of being inside it. the scale is enormous! the building’s power transcends architecture and religion. it is almost geological in its force. i stood near the center and watched rain fall through the oculus in the dome, a secret portal to heaven. i caught raindrops with my eyes and my mouth.

for the first time i could really sympathize with the religion of the ancient Romans. to feel what it must have felt like to enter that space and be overcome or at the very least humbled. you don’t need to understand the details and intricacies of the roman myths or gods to feel the importance of the temple. it is simply a human ego check, a reminder that we are small, insignificant, and connected to something or someone (or a group of someone’s) that may be governing the heavens and the earth and having an effect on our fate. unfortunately, much of the original decor of the pantheon has been replaced with christian symbols and statues. the christian stuff seems incredibly out of place and in a way neutered by the intensity and sublimity of the “pagan” space.

although, as a bonus Raphael’s tomb is in the pantheon. why didn’t i know that? the other day i also accidentally found a castle. my best recent accidental find back in ohio was a styrofoam head at the Trenton Garage Sale Extravaganza.

i saw most of the major sights in Rome including the colosseum, which i sketched while i imagined gladiators fighting, real miniature sea battles, and early christians being savagely ripped apart and eaten by lions under a roaring pagan sun while dreaming of Jesus Christ of Nazareth and the certainty of heaven. i saw the ruins of Ostia Antica, the original sea port of ancient rome. i explored miles of archeological excavations of the town, wandering freely in and out of the remains of old store fronts, apartments, and temples. i saw the capuchin crypts–piles of human bones laid out in intricate designs by monks. back in Ostia (the modern city, a suburb of Rome), i made friends with Lorenzo, an imposing but gentle guy about my age with a deep voice, an intense gaze, and a black stubbly square chin who works at a gellato shop a few blocks from the hostel. the last few nights i have walked along the beach to get gellato and hang out with Lorenzo on a bench just outside the store.

i also have assisted my compatriots with two sand sculptures on the beach, one of a hydra and one of a sphynx. we are all artists and it is natural to make art where we go. italian children gathered around and their parents took photographs. i met a very thin italian kid who proudly spoke some english. he told me his name was Eduardo, that he was eleven, and that our sculpture was “beeeeauuutiful!” as he gestured dramatically with his hands in a sincere Italian way.

i am hoping to carve out a few days this week to finish up a mix of a song from my new solo album. i have chosen a title and am close to finishing the cover art. i need to find a venue to do the album release in. i want to have a concert in the round and i want it to have elements of art installation and video. i don’t know how that is all possible but i am thinking about it a lot.

we are pulling into Florence now. i have just seen a sign with a black rooster, the symbol for the chianti wine region.
sadly, there is no internet at the hotel. i will find a cafe somewhere and be in touch.

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The Supermegablog II: adventures in adventureland

part one: USPS to the Rescue or Ronnie Was a Prick

i wake up as the van is rocketing down a congested state route at around 80 miles an hour. wiping the sleep from my eyes i say “be careful”. i hear an unfamiliar voice coming from the driver’s seat saying “get out of the way! i have no brakes!” now my eyes are open enough to see a man in an gray oil-stained hooded sweatshirt at the wheel, weaving through cars. one by one the other guys pop up from their seats. the stranger is honking the horn furiously, using all his strengh to make turns, saying “i didn’t expect to get a workout today”. i ask brian our bassist “what’s going on?”

there are a few reasons to join a band. the most obvious of course is music. but near the top is adventure. i love having adventures. when i was young i would often tell my mom “i’m going exploring” and walk out the backdoor with some kind of indiana jones accessory, often a hat or a whip. “where’s your sense of adventure?” has become the catch phrase of this tour.

on thursday night it was raining in philadelphia. it was 3am by the time we were finished loading our gear out of the grape street, one of our favorite venues. we closed and locked the trailer door and piled in the van. this was one of seven shows in the last ten days or so. we had played a decent set, ate an italian dinner at a little restaurant up the street, and had a couple drinks with friends, fans, and other bands. we hit the road with a collective satisfaction and the smell of cigarette smoke in the air. T was driving down I-495, everyone was making jokes about the details of the night as the lights on the dash began to dim. the windsheild wipers slowed to a crawl. the headlights went out. there was a moment of calm before T said “i have no power steering”, and began slowing and exiting. he pulled into a seven 11 and shut off the van.

“i guess we call tripple-a?” somebody said. without saying anything T put it in park, got out of the driver’s seat and went to the back of the van to lay down.
“they can’t tow a trailer. only a van,” i said. “There is no sense in having them tow it now anyway. nobody will be open to fix it until tomorrow. even if we get it towed we’ll still have to sleep in the van. we might as well sleep here with the trailer attached so nothing happens to it” brian was on the phone with aaa giving them location and card number when this sank in. he cancelled the call.

“what about the post office?” our sound guy jerry offered.
“what?”
“there’s a post office right across the street. a lot of these places have mechanics on duty to work on their trucks.”
i looked out across the street and saw fifty mail trucks all lined up and figured he was right. jerry and i got out in the rain and walked across the street and up onto a loading dock. jerry is a little older than me so i let him go first and do the talking. we stood there for just a few seconds before we were noticed by two men holding envelopes and pushing carts.

“what do you need?” one man huffed. jerry explained our situation and asked if there was a mechanic on duty.
“that would be ronnie but he doesn’t get in until 7:30. besides, Ronnie’s a real prick. he probably wouldn’t help you.”
“Ronnie’s a prick?” Jerry echoed as we tried to stifle our laughter.
“yeah. we’ll ask him when he gets in but he’s a prick”
“okay well thanks for your help.”
as we walked back to the van jerry guessed those guys had been working that shift for twenty years. i agreed.

jerry crawled under the engine and discovered we were missing the sepentine belt, but without tools and parts there was nothing he could do. i laid down in the the first bench seat and first noticed the cold. i covered up with my leather jacket and put a shirt around my knees to stay warm. i fell asleep immediately. brian sat in the drivers seat all night, wide-awake staring out at passing cars. the next thing i remember is rocketing down a congested state route at around 80 miles an hour, wiping the sleep from my eyes. as the van pulled into a mechanic’s garage the whole picture came into view. the post office had called an auto shop up the street and sent them to our rescue. as it was less than a mile away, they opted to save money and time by not involving a tow truck. instead, the mechanic would drive the van from the seven 11 to the garage without the serpentine belt as fast as he possibly could to avoid damage to the engine. with no brakes and no steering in the rain with us still asleep inside.

we rolled out of the van and into the garage severely disoritned and disheveled. we went through a door into an office–the kind of office you find in a garage. there we met Homer the owner and shop foreman, a kind grandfatherly man. Homer had owned the place for 30 years. in his youth he did a lot of the labor; now two men work for him and he mostly just sits at a desk smoking cigarettes and making jokes. we were all in our rocker leather jackets feeling a little out of place huddled around his desk in the little office full of collectible toy cars the ones you see that say NAPA or STP on them, with no where else to go as it was still raining and we had no vehicle. homer sent one guy out to get us all coffee, everyone orders cream and sugar except me decaf black, which is what homer drinks too. inevitably cream and sugar turned into sexual innuendo, to the delight of homer and his right hand man. quickly we relaxed and talked through the morning. homer told us about his wife and his second home in rehoboth beach, we told him about doing shows at the rusty rudder just down the road. he told us his friends at the post office had been working there for over twenty years. and that ronnie was indeed a prick.

for auto service in the Wilmington, DE area, we proudly recommend

Albright & Son Triangle Service, Inc.
308 Edgemoor Rd.
Wilmington, DE

joe in garage office

photos by katie from the grape street
Joe Hedges at grape street

Joe Hedges at grape street

T Miller at grape street

T Miller at grape street

Brian Ives at grape street

Dan McQuinn at grape street

from the italian restaurant
Band Eats Dinner

* * *

part 2: Coyote Strangely or Lincoln Like A God or What Do Those Flashing Lights Mean?

with the belt fixed we drove on to our hotel in baltimore, killed some time until they had clean rooms, and checked in. we finally showered and slept from 3pm to 6pm. this was a light sleep, as there were children scremaing the whole time, and some intense vacuuming happening in the room directly above us.

that night we had a nice dinner with our friend sara and T’s sister, then played a show in washington DC. T and i had not been to DC since the sniper shootings. then, we were instructed to walk in zig-zag lines. also on that trip the vallet ripped the side door off the van, and it hasn’t worked quite the same since. but THIS time in DC would be different–uneventful. maybe.

the club we played at, the RnR bar used to be a Coyote Ugly until very recently. in fact the bartender working was a coyote ugly girl, a leftover from the coyote days if i may use the word leftover to describe an attractive girl dancing on the bar and singing terrible songs very loudly between bands. this was kind of strange. very strange actually. she had a nice enough voice it was just strange and loud. later we agreed that the place should have just stayed a coyote ugly as it wasn’t really set up for bands. the small mixer and awkward stage forced us to play a scaled-down acoustic set, which was fine. except we were so tired from the van incident that all the songs were really slow and i kept losing my fingering on the keyboard. ack. the other band chance gardener, who had invited us down to do the show, was good and were nice enough to stay with a lot of their fans to see us play.

after the show i cut open my finger falling on a fence in the back alley. fortunately it was my right hand. we were all struck by the amount of rats in the alley. all the reincarnated politicians i guess. after we were in the van i insisted that we drive a few blocks and see the lincoln memorial. i have been to dc before but never seen it. so it was 3 or 4 in the morning, we had loaded out of the RnR bar in DC and we are tired as hell heading toward the lincoln memorial. brain kept saying “i am just going to sleep in the van.”
“where’s your sense of adventure?” i challenged repeatedly, knowing he hadn’t slept in two days.

all my life i have wanted to see this lincoln thing. i’ve seen it on TV and in movies, at historic moments in our nations history like martin luther king’s speech about dreaming. my dad was an attorney and a lincoln historian. images of lincoln hung all over his office. busts and paintings and things. i guess he’s one of the family heroes, up there with st. mary

jerry took these:
washington monument

lincoln memorial

as the lincoln memorial came into view we were immediately taken aback by its sheer size and magesty. fog rolled across the reflecting pool and there was a stillness all around. no tourists. just a single security guy and a few kids, maybe high school kids on some kind of trip. i felt like this was really our moment, something we could own. it wasn’t part of a crowd or a long line of people waiting to experience something. i don’t think any of us really expected that. even brian who i convinced to accompany us.

i have always had a soft spot for large columns. these are in the doric style. all the credit goes to the greeks for creating the blueprint for a structure which would inspire such a deep respect. lincoln himself looks like a god, stoic and pensive, gazing out at the obelisk in the distance. the things he has seen.

lincoln memorial

on the way out of the city we were pulled over and surrounded by police.
“everybody out!” yelled the officer. he was a black man in his fifties and was severely unhappy. he took one look at everybody and told the other guys to get back in the van. i had to come with him.
“did you not see the flashing lights?” he asked me again.
“i’m sorry i–”
“you’re sorry?”
“what do those flashing lights mean?”
“stop.” then for a while as they were running my licence he was holding a ticket in his hand, discussing with another cop the distance it took me to stop. “100 yards at least.” the other officer offered. as we came through an intersection a parked police car flashed its lights quickly once. i guess it was some kind of checkpoint but it wasn’t marked. i didn’t understand the signal. the next thing i knew we were surrounded by cop cars masquerading as taxi’s just moments before.
“why didn’t you stop?”
“i just didn’t realize the lights were for me. i mean i didn’t think we were speeding or breaking any–”
“that’s not the point! when you see those lights you stop!”
“i understand.”
then his demeanor began to change. one thing that often eases a scolding by an authority figure is “i understand”. when you understand someone else’s point of view, it is very hard for them to continue yelling at you about it. sometimes apologizing works too but apparently not with cops. he decided not to finish writing the ticket and sent us on our way with another officer who escorted us to I-295.

in the van a little shaken up we started to feel cool about having a police escort. i guess they were a little freaked out by a large trailer heading toward the capital building in the middle of the night. understandably. “it’s a good thing brian wasn’t driving,” somebody said. brian was born in Calcutta.

* * *


part 3 the free tie

i am kind of not making chronological sense but i figure it doesn’t matter. moving backwards in time tuesday we played in cambridge at harvard square from some law students at harvard law. one of my very best childhood friends graduated from harvard law. so it was kind of an odd coincidence that we had a show there, as small as the school is. the promoter, a law student and long-time jfk fan named kevin, worked very hard to make this show happen and get some people there on a tuesday night. i can only conclude that we make music for smart people. or conversely and more accurately, some smart people like our music. you are here so you are probably smart. even if you’re not smart enough to get into harvard law, you are reading for fun so that’s something only smart people do. see?

before the show the van battery died just outside the venue. one of the acoustic openers was kind enough to jump it for us after t promised to buy him a beer. i could make a thing out of this but it wasn’t really a big deal. red to red black to ground and vwah lah (voila).

T and i hung out in cambridge a few times on a radio tour a while back. i like it there. everything is pristine and clean and white collar, and multicultural and everything else you would expect. all over they have black iron gates that the campus workers apparently open and close and lock at random times throughout the day, preventing anyone from taking the exact same path too often. this i guess is to provide stumuli for the walking law students whose brains are so large they become ill if they go for a few minutes without a case or puzzle or maze to solve. for me it was only a slight inconvenience on my way to and from the trailer as i had a local guide who was accustomed to navigating these gates.

there are a few stereotypes of the harvard law student and we’ve met some of them. the entire harvard law rugby team was at our show. they wore matching ties, chanting things just like you would see in a coming of age college movie. you might expect them to heckle or be bullies (they would in the movie), but they were all very cool and seemed to enjoy and appreciate our music. it turns out, the hecklers are driving around through harvard sqare.

three faggots

just as this picture was taken, somebody drove by and yelled “faggot!” his friends in the car laughed. jerry laughed confusedly but i assured him it’s totally normal–this has happened to me all my life. just another drive by “faggot” yelling.

somehow, brian finagled a tie from one of the rugby players. i am quite jealous of this. he wore it for the rest of the trip.

brian in harvard tie

the show was good. we made some new fans and saw some people who we hadn’t seen in years. it had been a long while since we played in the area.

part 4 the shetland piano

monday we played acoustic in new york city at rockwood music hall which is not a music hall at all. rockwood music room or rockwood music bar or place or something would be more accurate as it is quite small. that worked to our advantage as the place was full enough to seem happening enough even as early as we played at 7:30. they had a baby grand on stage, which was fun to play although my long legs did not quite fit comfortably under it. this was the lowest piano i’ve ever played. it was like if a baby grand had a baby. and that baby had a midget baby and then grew up slightly into a midget toddler. i might call this a shetland midget toddler baby grand. probably could do away with the grand completely as there was nothing grand about it. but the action was good and it was in tune, which is all that really matters. i can’t play the piano worth a crap anyway. yet.

photos by cat
Joe Hedges at Rockwood Music Hall

Joe Hedges at Rockwood Music Hall

Joe Hedges at Rockwood Music Hall

the set was pretty okay. i made the mistake of taking a short nap in the van right before the show, and didn’t warm up enough to overcome the tired vocal chords. other than that it was okay. i love being in new york anyway so an average set is not going to bum me out for long. we burned through our curvature songs and given the intimate nature of the show started taking requests for older things including float away and even one for gomorra, which we did not attempt.

after we got our gear out of the club i sold a few pieces of art out of the trailer. selling art out of a trailer on a dark new york city street is awesome. that is how i paid for the trip. i left with almost no money and survived by selling prints of my art. how bohemian is that? thanks so much to everyone who bought stuff from me.

that night we went to a cuban restaurant that served plaintains instead of chips. i had a burrito. it was amazing.

part 5 The Craver or We’re Awesome

Joe Hedges walk through parking lot

moving backwards even further in time, last saturday we played at the house of crave in columbus. the weather was beautiful and we spent some time on the sidewalk outside just hanging out. as you might expect if you’ve seen harold and kumar or know anything about “the craver” the house of crave has a white castle inside it.

Dan Eats White Castle

that’s right, a music venue with a white castle in it. white castle is the worst/best/worst/best again food ever. i had hoped to buy some onion chips after we played but just as i was ready to make my purchase they closed. dejected i made my way out to the van to eat more trail mix. to save money i would eat more trail mix in the next week than at any other time in my life.

we played a solid set here. we’re awesome.

photos by Niles C. Davis
Joe Hedges at House of Crave

Joe Hedges at House of Crave

Joe Hedges at House of Crave

Joe Hedges at House of Crave

part 6 we stopped in pittsburgh

the other day we had off for travel from baltimore to sandusky so we stopped in pittsburgh.

part 7 A Waterpark for Inmates

sunday we played a breast cancer benefit show in sandusky ohio at the nia center within kalahari resort and indoor waterpark. the place kalahari named after a desert in southern africa and is themed accordingly. when you walk in you are immediately greeted with music that sounds a little like the breakdown in Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long”, one of my favorite songs. there’s something african about it but what is it and what’s the point? what are they saying and why? i don’t know and it’s best not to ask questions. i felt the same way about the resort. i loved the vibe of it but there’s something weird about just putting any random african thing in a place. “here what about these large long masks? they are african. how about some spears and maybe some trees growing up around? they have trees in africa yes. and grass huts. what about girraffes?. and lions. we will need some lions that’s for damn sure.”

T Riding a Statue of a Lion

the main attraction of kalahari is definitely that it is america’s largest indoor waterpark. i will admit, one of the reasons i took the show was that i was intrigued about the venue. really, indoor waterpark? that sounds awesome! you can play in the water without even having to go outside. we considered driving all the way there on saturday night to enjoy a few hours of waterpark activities before the show. after seeing the place, i am glad we did not. while we really enjoyed the music and the decor and the fake animals and all that, the waterpark was just not right. they gave us a free fifteen minute pass to check it out. jerry put it best saying “it’s like a waterpark for inmates,” meaning people who cannot enjoy the actual sun. instead, they have to stay inside this enormous poorly lit poorly ventilated room and breathe in the toxic chlorine air, trying not to get a headache while they ride waterslides. there were even reclining lawn chairs like you would see at the pool or surf cincinnati, but again, one big thing missing–the sun! what were people doing in these chairs? basking in the greenish glow of the florescent lighting. gross and weird. of course it didn’t help that we had beautiful weather outside that day. with all that said, the kids were having fun and i’m sure some grown ups were too. maybe would be best to have ended all that at my first thought–you can play in the water without even having to go outside.

as for the show, this had to be one of the most thoroughly planned benefit concerts in sandusky. two high school girls put it on. i was really inspired by the amount of work they put into it. sadly, like most benefit conerts it was poorly attended. there are a lot of factors that have to come together to make a benefit show featuring local bands a success from a crowd standpoint. (i am hoping some people show up at our show June 2nd!) at the very least, this show had some corporate sponsors so i think they still made a little bit of money for breast cancer research. i hope anyway. i think everyone had a good time including us.

now my cat cleo is sitting here by me on the desk, writhing around she is so happy i am home. we don’t have anything going on for a week and a half. i’ve come down with a bit of a fever so i can use a little time to relax and catch up on some less adventurous things. thanks to all the nice people we came in contact with on the road for helping us out by taking pictures buying merch fixing our van et cetera. and thank you for reading.

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The Supermegablog

so what have i been doing for six months?

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