This last summer, a wonderful lady named Oceanna Van Lelyveld set up a show for me at a great rural space in Port Townsend called the Palindrome. Our show there was the first in a long while. The venue was previously run by the Flying Karamazov Brothers and many years before it had been a dance hall where Ellington played. We were so happy to be there in the community to warm up the space again, and to share such a hallowed stage.
A little girl came up to me right before we were going to play. I wasn’t sure if she wanted to talk to me because she kept her distance. She was too shy to say anything, and I was stage frighty. Took us a minute to speak. But she finally asked me to sign her 1980 something ‘Pupple’ magazine of fake dog celebrities like Princess Fi and Mick Wagger. A guy who goes by Nyk Fury happened to snap our picture at that moment. I’m really surprised I found this photo later on. I came across it by sheer kismet. Nyk captured the moment when I was doodling reindeer horns on Barkla Streisand, who was a cute Afgan hound.
After the show the little girl dreamed that I showed up at her place nude on a motorcycle. In dream logic, I was really her mom’s mom, and we three swam across the bay together.
This little girl is the star of our fourth meta-fan monday. Her mother emailed me a few days after the show to tell me about my cameo in her daughter’s dream. She also told me that it was strictly the little girl’s idea to get me to sign ‘Pupple’ magazine. Brilliant. Out of respect for her young age, I won’t post her name here.
Dream on. Dream on. I love it.
Like the two previous subjects of meta-fan monday, Guy is someone I consider a friend now. But he started out as a fan- I heard somewhere in the press that Guy said I’m his favorite singer. I feel like a jerk even typing that. How on earth can that be true? I have a bad habit of pretending that people don’t actually like me when it’s too much for me to take. Sometimes I’ll blank out and not hear a compliment, especially if it’s coming from someone I really admire. If it weren’t for my bandmate standing next to me, I never would have remembered the kind things Lou Reed said to me.
Guy Garvey befriended me through his incredible warmth and generosity. He plays my music on his BBC radio show. I’d never met him before he invited me to come to Real World Studios, Peter Gabriel’s place in Box, England. I honestly had no idea what we’d be up to. I hung out while he and his boys put together an amazing album in a classic studio. I did a little bit of jamming along with everyone but ultimately Guy and I huddled in a side room just the two of us and wrote a song about long distance romance.
The record Courting The Squall just came out the day before Halloween, fresh as can be. Our song is called ‘Electricity.’
Last winter Guy had me open up for his band Elbow to sold out shows at Hammersmith Apollo in Manchester, probably the biggest audience I’ve ever played to- 5,000 people. I think I sold one record that night. Show biz these days.
Guy told me that my song ‘All The Morning Birds’ is one of the default melodies in his mind. As in, if he’s not busy thinking something, my song off Catalpa is one of the screen savers. I like that idea, the default songs- Jan Bell’s Right To Love is one of those for me. It’s a good solid workhorse of a song, as sturdy as one of Hank Williams’ hits. I’m honored that my song has a place like that in people’s lives. That one, especially I wrote in my head slowly over a handful of years. It makes sense that it’s a portable, reverberant song for other people, because that’s how it came to me.
As we’ve gotten to know each other better, I have substantiated this strange and distinct impression that Guy really is one of the least sexist, most naturally feminist dudes I’ve ever met. He’s an incredible guy. It was great to get a chance to sing with him. I’m so glad he has his TV show called Music Box. It’s purely appropriate and wonderful that his vibes be broadcast as far and wide as possible. The boys in my band, my badass European tour manager and I all fell madly and platonically in love with him.
The picture up top is from when I was practicing selfies in the yard at Guy’s house. He was kind enough to put all five of us up in his big beautiful house in Manchester when we toured through.
Welcome back to meta-fan mondays, where I sing the praises of those fans of whom I am a fan. For our second ever meta-fan monday, I wanted to shine a light on this beautiful soul Umnia.
By now it’s hard to conceive of Umnia as a fan. She has become such a close friend. I met her four years ago in Florida when I was touring for Pint Of Blood. We had some weird kaleidoscopic conversation at the merch table and I told her, ‘next time you’re at any of my shows, you have to come say hi to me.’ I didn’t know it at the time, but she was in a rough situation at that point. Two or three years later she came to a show in Chicago and reintroduced herself. She told me she had used my music to help her break free. Our conversation deepened and continued, and now I can’t imagine the rest of that summer without her. I felt like I’d found a real sister.
Umnia came on tour with us for a few shows. The road got unexpectedly long and hard when someone on tour with us had a crisis and couldn’t deal. Horrorshow in the tourvan. So Umnia’s presence was a real lifesaving balm. She always rolls with incredible grace, brilliance, kindness and beauty.
We got down to New Orleans where all had a magical respite. My gorgeous friend Stacy put us up in the finest style. We danced and feasted with handsome men and lovely women.
The afternoon before our show there, Umnia accompanied me on a little pilgrimage to see a hero of mine. I was going to the Island of Salvation Botanica to drop off a record for Sallie Ann Glassman. I had never met her but I had dedicated Wine Dark Sea to her. (And then I misspelled her name on the liner notes– ooof.) Sallie was presiding at the botanica, and I was a nervous fangirl. We invited her to the show that night but she was too busy. In an email I received a few days later, Sallie told me she was kicking herself the morning after when she heard the deejay on WWOZ saying that our show was the best he’d seen in New Orleans in a year. I was so pleased to have gotten the news from Sallie Ann Glassman, the great syncretist, my hero, spiritual heir apparent to Maya Deren.
So Umnia has been by my side through heaven and hell. Like Bessie Smith says, you never know where you’re going to meet one of your best friends.
I’ve been considering how to communicate with you via social media. By you I mean you. You are the stranger or the person I may have met. Maybe you’re one of my best friends reading here. It occurs to me that I might hold up the mirror here. As the slogan goes, social media is about engaging with fans. So I want to talk about people who have engaged as fans, people who have taken the weirdness out of this dynamic: the singer isolated on stage and those dimly glimpsed in the darkness beyond the glare of the lights. Meta-Fan Mondays are about fans of whom I am a fan.
Charlie is simply the greatest. I won’t embarrass him by saying his last name. For the last ten years or so he has sent flowers to the first show of every tour. He’s been our ‘deadhead’ traveling with us from show to show. He’s crammed cash in my paw when he knew I was broke. He read interviews where I talked about out-of-print records I love, and then Found Those Records and sent them to me. Charlie has been a better friend than the people who raised me.
Here’s Justin Veloso, my main drummer on the drums, and Adam Brisbin there on the guitar. I’m grinning with the lipgloss up front by the giant bouquet Charlie sent even though he was all the way in England. This photo was taken around Christmas 2014 at (dearly departed) Viracocha in San Francisco where we had a real soul-satisfying residency. We played every day for a week, only repeating a few songs. Diamond Dave Whitaker was there yelling his poetic slogans. “Early Days Still Rocking!” he hollered as he headed up the stairs for the last time. We played some Dylan songs for Diamond Dave because he’s friends with Bob. Dave famously got Dylan stoned for the first time. Dave regaled us with tales of Doug Sahm and the Sir Douglas Quintet sleeping on his floor in Edwardian suits back in the old hippy days. Black YaYa from Paris thrilled us with his beautiful songs. Mayon Hanania drew some great sketches of the goings on. My bandmates Jared Samuel and Adam Brisbin came all the way out from NYC to lay it down. Stevie Weinstein-Foner sang rock songs about Jesus in a white kurta barefoot with suede pants on Christmas night. With his long dark hair flowing down, and his substantial beard, he was a vision of sexy Jesus. Adam Brisbin kept saying “Best Christmas Ever” and all agreed, which is just proof that musicians are happy if you let them work their asses off. We were practicing all day and playing a different set every night.
The staff and founder of Viracocha were like magic midwives helping to create such a golden experience. The site of Viracocha was a Santeria shop before it was a secret venue/antique store. I hope for an excellent future to the space, and to those who created it.
Charlie once blew Justin’s mind and reportedly ‘made his life’ by bringing up Justin’s deeply underground experimental band J-Zee Sushi Car as we stood on the sidewalk outside ‘Water Rats’ in London.
I Love You, Charlie. You’ve immeasurably improved the quality of my life.