Every summer in recent memory, I’ve gone through a prolonged period of doubt. My foundation unravels and I start to question everything. “Do I need to move?” “Are my priorities out of wack?” “Is it time for a career change?” I call it my summer malaise. I consider myself a happy and blessed person, but something happens in the summer. Maybe it’s the sky.
Throughout fall, winter and spring, we have amazing, dynamic weather over our heads in Marin County. The co-mingling of micro-climates gets me high, and I’m forever looking at the clouds. By contrast, our sky is reliably blue in the summer, and I wonder if it makes me stir crazy. Without that stimulation overhead, I look to the streets, and there ain’t much happening.
In 2009-2011, I was nearly crazy with this seasonal affliction. But last summer, in 2012, I licked those blues. At the age of 32, I booked my first tour. I’d done it a couple times as a sideman, but never as Peck the Town Crier. The circuit was lovely and green: Eureka, Eugene, Portland, Olympia, Seattle and finally Petaluma. It was as much a vacation as a tour, with 1-2 days off after every show. Between cities, I rode solo in my Toyota Echo. But by showing up alone, like Shane in the book Shane, I was all the more together with folks.
Upon arriving in a new place, I’d go to a coffee shop and read The Monkey Wrench Gang, an eco-terror thriller that my brother had hipped me to after we’d watched a riveting documentary called If A Tree Falls, (I recommend both these titles highly…) Because the NW region is rich with eco-defense, Edward Abbey (author of monkey wrench) is about as important in the Northwest as Steve Jobs is in the Bay. The book became a rubric for my entire trip and a fast introduction to new friends. I visited pirate radio stations, met people who’d known people in both the book and the doc, and was exposed to a lot of skills, values and language. In addition to these activists, I hung with a lot of gutter punks. You might know the type: boxcar hoppers, with self-repaired clothes (always a bandana round the neck), who listen to dingy metal albums on cassette and play fast, angry bluegrass on the street. Back in Marin, I’d had some teen guitar students who embraced the same lifestyle and aesthetic, so I was predisposed to liking the punks. All these encounters were great, really heart-opening. But they also carried a charge of guilt, and I came away asking myself “Do I need to change my values? Did I come on the road, singing moralistic lyrics, only to guzzle gas and peddle my wares?” Seems that my summer malaise was finding me again, even on the road, with all these dynamic streets and skies.
During my long drive home, from Seattle to Sebastopol, all this input got synthesized, and I knew I had to start something: a band called LOAN, the story went. We would channel the grinding reality of the present day, rather than mask it with the emoticons and compulsive chipper-ness of the tech people (sorry, i do feel that way sometimes.) We would need a brilliant poet, and maybe a screaming woman.
Look – many of my ideas are just impulses, and JAH treats them as such, showing no signs how I might actualize these weaker visions. But every now and again, an idea has power. Not only will it persist in my mind, but the universe seems to pave the way.
When I got home to Cali, an interesting string of events unfolded. My coming home show was supposed to happen in Sebastopol. But when I got to the venue, the front door was chained shut, with an emphatic note of apology and the booker’s phone number. I was fighting mad until I called Sooz, and she told me the deal.
The show was cancelled due to a bomb threat. In Sebastopol? What the fuck? Seems some misguided kids were upset that the venue (which doubles as a vintage clothing store) was selling second-hand leather. Idiots, to be sure, but still an amazing coincidence: My entire tour had followed this thread of eco-defense, and BOOYAH, the final show is cancelled by a bomb threat.
I hung in the parking lot until the other musicians and a few friends showed up. Sooz had made me promise not to tell anyone what was going on, and for the most part, I’ve held off until now. But there’s got to be a statute of limitations on stories like these, and it’s almost exactly a year since that night. One of the musicians who was slated to play, Alex Rather-Taylor, suggested that we go to Green String Farm. It’s on Lakeville Highway in Petaluma, a place where young folk came from around the country and farm the old-school way. Everybody liked the idea, so Alex called them and they said “Yeah! Come over!” About ten musicians and friends left the parking lot in a caravan. We found the farm easily, ate a home grown meal, and played in a 100 year-old school house, with lavender boughs drying in the rafters. (For some nice footage of this, click on Alex’s name above.)
The most remarkable thing about that show wasn’t our performances. We all played nice songs, and people enjoyed themselves, but the real meat of the night came after the show, when we stood outside and sang rounds together, farm kids and performers elevated to the same riser of a lovely choir. Unlike my shows and hangs on the road, I wasn’t conflicted about singing together with these folks on a farm, and that was the end of my summer malaise, 2012 edition.
Between then and now, JAH did help LOAN come into being. Here’s a taste of that band…more coming soon:
Tonight I meant to write about this summer’s tour, which ended just a couple weeks ago. It was almost exactly the same trip: driving alone most of the time, visiting the friends I made last year, falling in and out of love in the space of 9 days, and playing alternately victorious and tragic shows. I listened to Daft Punk the entire time and ate little green lozenges very often. These adventures notwithstanding, there was still a whiff of that old malaise, waiting down an alley in each town. But the whole pre-amble about 2012 has gobbled up the present, and the story feels complete.
Here’s a playlist of bands from the 2013 tour. Maybe you’ll see yourself in there ;)
I love you all, and if you made it all the way to here, I really love you.
Thanks for reading,