Friday, 19 June 2009

Meth labs and sleepless nights

….we left our story at the beginning of the tube strike, a 2 ½ day clamp down on a city already under siege from centuries old roads and architecture, ridiculous recession, the double-whammy of socialist capitalism or capitalist socialism, and bad weather.

Got a call from someone I’d consider a friend with privileges.  The conversation went from I’m not sure if I can see you right now to irate expressions and tirades to his losing all privileges.  Some stories end quickly.

Seemed like every possible circumstance was keeping me from the work I was supposed to be doing, prepping the workshop.  Then my friend L canceled her trip down to London last minute – we hadn’t seen each other in years and realized in January that we were both in the UK.  Now she’s off to LA; I’m off to NY and it may be more years before we see each other. 

Then R couldn’t go on her trip as her passport was expired!  Devastating!  I was going to stay in her place while she was gone, so suddenly had to find a place to stay.  Was Mercury re-retrograde?  Why was everything unraveling?  Were we ever gonna get back to any forward motion?  And what to do in the meantime?

I decided to take D up on his oft-repeated “if you ever find yourself really in a bind…” I went over there after the workshop Saturday and we ended up out in the garden talking, listening to tunes and yeah – drinking – this is England – til, well late.  The rain came down and we put the umbrella up and just kept going.  The low point for me was wearing my tights outside with no shoes and accidentally stepping on a snail.  Crunch.  Ick.  Goo.

The workshop on Sunday went even better than Saturday.  We got loads more done than last time and I was only a little foggy.  I’d needed a night of unwinding, for sure.

I was meant to host/compère Sound Bites again on the Sunday.  After a long, long weekend of teaching, I was looking forward to it.  Seriously.  They have the best chips at The Abbey and compèring really lets me just hang out – no stress like performing.  Get to enjoy the bands, the people and keep busy.  (You know how I am when I have nothing to do.)

I get there and instead of Kentish Town, I’m suddenly in L.A.  Police tape.  Street closed off.  Cops everywhere.  There are some people inside The Abbey, so I go under the police tape and head in.  Basically, Sound Bites is cancelled.  Word on the street is a Meth Lab was discovered in the building next door. 


Yup.  This ain’t a Soledad Canyon trailer park – yo’ – this is Kentish Town.  Police putting on silver suits to go in and take out evidence.  It looked like a set.

We all went across the street to The Flower Pot and had a great night.  I met the very cool parents of the musician who was performing that night.  We talked music and live shows and working with kids and staying happy.  I think we’d have happily traded our citizenship with each other – the Dad was all about getting to the States.  Loves Texas.  Go figure.  Had a Texas tattoo!

We were talking about some music festivals he went to last year.  He was telling me about how it was pissing down rain and Rufus Wainwright came out and said maybe he could do something about the weather.  He started playing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and by the time the song ended, the rain had stopped.  Some moments are inexplicable beauty.  As he described it, I could hear Rufus singing it and I could feel his awe and feel the sky thinking, “alright, let’s give it a rest for a while.”




After a while we all went in and got seats and watched his son play.  I don’t actually know his whole name, so I’ll just stick with pronouns.  The main thing about the songs he played was this kind of who gives a f**k self-deprecating honesty combined with very specific storytelling.  Each song talks about the people and places he knows intimately.  A lot of the people in the songs were actually in the room and he’d call them up onstage where they’d feel really uncomfortable.  None of these were like Billy Bragg protest songs, but it was folk writing at its finest – exposing the humanity in small things and the way systems have of crushing that intentionally and unintentionally.  Giving your own life and lexicon importance by chronicling it carefully.

The night was cool, I didn’t drink that much, but still felt kinda swept up in things.  It was one of those nights you sometimes have after a really really long shoot day when you go out for a drink.  You’re exhausted enough that your defenses are down, but you’re also safe and relieved.  Your responsibilities done, you know you worked hard and deserve good fun, you’re around people you dig, and it’s all good.  It was kind of an MDMA kinda feeling, which took me by surprise.  After the set, the DJ remixed Baba O’Reilly and generally played my psyche for about 40 minutes.  We danced, drank more, somebody poured a shot down my throat, and the night kept getting crazier.  No cars to worry about – all on foot.  No curfews, no school tomorrow.

We stayed up all night.  All night.  I learned how to DJ.  (Watch out Jedi!)  Started mixing and did a set, then we had a battle that mighta lasted 5 hours.  Vinyl everywhere.  Everything got played.  Presents were given.  People came and went.  Some left guitars.  Messes were made.

The sun’s been coming up around 4am these days, which is disquieting.  Somewhere around then was when we started djing and somewhere around 11:30 we kinda gave up.  Listened to a whole side of Elbow.  The finer points of Stevie Wonder’s production, The Carpenters arrangements, Donna Summer’s underrated place in music history (not to mention Giorgio Moroder’s), the sweet relief of a well-timed George Benson tune, and why you don’t talk during Marvin Gaye were discussed.  “Kids in America” was followed by “Like a Rolling Stone” – and dammit – it made sense.  I never found the David Bowie, or any Talking Heads, or White Stripes or The Roots’ songs I was hoping for.  We found Santana, and Allman Brothers, at crucial moments when were in grave danger of veering off into dangerous territory.  I found a Jimmy Cliff cover of Cat Steven’s “Wild World” that had a sweetness beyond belief.  Finding Ninja Tunes Xen Cuts on vinyl was a religious moment.  Figuring out how many Amon Tobin tracks was too many to play and all three of us demanding the Sarah Jones track was pretty liberating.  We brought back disco and gave it it’s rightful place, and searched the soul archives for greatness.  Bill Withers Live at Carnegie Hall was a watershed moment.

At one point, I looked around, and said:

Too bad Robert Frank isn’t here to film us.

Partially true, and partially referencing our earlier discussion of – what else – the Beats, it did feel like a night that should be recorded and can only be explained in toto or not at all.  (So – how’m I doing?)

Next day, I was just kind of furniture.  Still we talked books, and I attempted writing.  I enjoyed the feeling of complete exhaustion.  I felt detoxed from so much that had been pulling or dragging.  I cleaned what seemed like every dish and glass in the kitchen until there was nothing left to clean.  Eventually, I was ordered to take a nap, and having little or no will of my own at that point, and only one lick of sense, decided to do what I was told.  After about 3 ½ hours and a huge thunderstorm, I made it up again, had tea and some food, and pulled it together long enough to head back to where I was really staying.  Where I promptly fell asleep for 10 hours. 

It’s too easy when you’re living this way to feel the ground shifting under you all the time.  Too easy to feel like you’re floating or drifting or even lost.  Without a map.  Uncharted territory.  The only thing that takes that feeling away, really takes it away, is connecting with people.  Good people, thinking people, feeling people.  Artists and their equivalents in other fields.  People who appreciate great art.   People who sense how the universe works and try to help it reveal itself to us.

When a dancer works a muscle hard the teacher will tell you to shake it out.  Just shake it out.  And there you are shaking that leg or arm or whatever like a fool until it calms itself down.

When life works you over hard, sometimes you just gotta shake it out.





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