Ben made chiles rellenos and Julia read our natal charts. Ben’s a Leo, but his moon is in Scorpio, so there you go. Chris is an Aquarius, which makes sense too, I guess. As for me, I have a difficult relationship with my sun sign, Taurus. I don’t think of myself as stubborn, or as a homebody, or as particularly focused on material pleasures. I want to think of myself as an artistic, adventurous free spirit. I used to go around claiming I was on the Aries-Taurus cusp, trying to claim a bit of that fire energy, but it isn’t really true. I’m pretty much a Taurus.
My moon is in Gemini, which does balance the slowness of Taurus with some speed and impulsiveness; Gemini is also verbal and intellectual. “This is the most restless and fickle of the Taurus combinations,” quoth some website. So there’s that. And Cancer is ascendant: apparently people with this combination “love nature, draw strength from it, and get a lot from sleep.”
This is interesting reading for a summer spent continuously on the move. The amount of energy one spends on tour just doing basic maintenance: (1) keep all my shit in the same place, don’t lose anything; (2) sleep; (3) drink water; (4) eat decently; (5) exercise?; is enormous. Higher-level thinking was very difficult to achieve amidst all this.
It turns out, besides the familiar sun, moon, and planets, there are also these difficultly explained North and South Nodes, which represent one’s karmic past-life background and current lifetime’s direction. Guess what? More Taurus. Supposedly I come out of Scorpio — weird shit, black magic — and my whole goal in this lifetime is pointing toward the great bull, just to keep a nice house, water the plants, eat good food, have a nice glass of wine. I was so confused by this that I called my mom to make sure I wasn’t wrong about my birth time.
But maybe the confusion is about my sense of comfort versus my sense of aspiration. When the river is wide enough, it can be challenging to remember which way is source and which is mouth.
Bath Dance Works is a beautiful old room with a dark old wood floor on the upper level of a beautiful old building in old downtown Bath, Maine. We didn’t want to damage the floor, so we lifted the heavy old piano onto an old rug and slid it across the room to set up the performance space.
People in Maine do not have air conditioning. Not yet, anyway.
We were double booked with a zen meditation group. During sound check they began wandering into the space, looking quite confused to discover that their regular weekly meetup had been replaced. But being zen meditators and all, they were awfully gracious about the whole thing, and a few of them even stayed for the show. One of them claimed to enjoy our songs, especially the ones in 4/4. He likes Oscar Peterson. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the jazz-influenced number he was referring to toward the end of the set was actually in 12/8. He also made mention of some of our more experimental material, accusing us of playing in 9/14, which we good-naturedly took as a challenge.
It’s a lovely thing to cast yourself out in the world and place your reliance on the kindness not solely of strangers, but of old friends not recently seen, relatives not well enough kept up with, acquaintances who you’re not quite comfortable asking to crash at their place but do it anyway. You learn that people are cool, have interesting books on their shelves, know where to point you for a morning trail run, have decent bagel places around the corner, and really want to come hear you play, you know, if it works in and among the present wildness of their lives. All the new meetings and overdue reunions were a powerful reward from the effort of touring.
It’s absolutely exhausting and absolutely worth it. Time to get my Taurus on: time to make some meals, read some books, get some sleep. Finishing the summer this week with a visit to see some old friends on the Oregon coast. These friends are coffee-brewing and bread-baking experts who also surf every day. Enjoying losing myself in the mist for a few days before it all starts up again.
(one day by the river…)
Grant Wallace Band & Ross Gallagher — The Battenkill
Two Labyrinths Records
releases August 17, 2018
pre-orders are available now!:
Grant Wallace Band is hitting the road this week with Ross Gallagher in support of our forthcoming album The Battenkill -- which releases August 17. Dates dates dates, with facebook events, for those still brave enough to use social media:
8/1 — Grant Wallace Band with Ross Gallagher at Radio Bean (Burlington, VT)
8/2 — Pre-Game & National Anthem, Vermont Lake Monsters (Burlington, VT)
8/3 — Grant Wallace Band with Ross Gallagher at the Frost Stone House (Bennington, VT)
8/4 — Porkstock 2018 (Eagle Bridge, NY)
8/7 — Cantab Lounge (Cambridge, MA)
8/8 — Fishkill Listening Club at Bath Dance Works (Bath, ME)
8/9 — Grant Wallace Band at HiLo (Catskill, NY)
8/10 — Friday Night Dinner and Music with Special Guests The Grant Wallace Band at Finger Lakes Cider House (Interlaken, NY)
8/11 — House Concert (East Setauket, NY)
Also on 8/11, Chicago Composers Orchestra plays my high-lonesome wind canticle kaze no denwa at the Thirsty Ears Festival. That concert is 3:30pm at All Saints Church in Ravenswood.
For some reason, none of my friends seem to publish their lyrics on Bandcamp. I’ve always done this, since I started releasing music there in (gulp) 2010. Bandcamp offers arguments in favor: people will google your lyrics, they suggest, and you want those googlers to end up here, where they can buy your album, and where the lyrics will be correct: “If you haven’t added lyrics on Bandcamp, those fans are likely ending up on lyriczzzbay.com instead, who’s showing them ads for Applebee’s.”
Ben has the best counter-argument. They’re lyrics, he has told me, not poetry. They’re meant to be heard, not read. I suppose there is valuable mystery in this. The words are supposed to be music, and like music maybe they should fly past you and disappear. Maybe if you sing a word ambiguously and people can’t understand it, maybe that’s part of the experience; mondegreens are a tradition unto themselves.
Me, I just can’t resist carefully telling everyone how I like my lyrics punctuated, where the line breaks are. I like precise capitalization—it’s one of my preferred methods of resisting the current presidential administration. I like revealing the spelling of fictional place and character-names. I like specifying that I’m using “O” rather than “Oh,” in the sense of Shakespearean ecphonesis. I like supplying quotation marks where a quotation is taking place. Looking back, I see that the only exceptions are Crazy Cloud in Dream World (probably because I didn’t write all of the lyrics), Captivity Songs (probably because I was depressed), and the song “Red (for Sam Amidon)” from On Blue Trails (probably because I was quoting, and because I wanted it to be mysterious).
I think I’ll keep doing it. If nothing else, it’s nice to have them all archived in one place. Did you know that Bob Dylan’s official website has a complete listing of all the songs he’s released, with lyrics, discography, the first time he played it live, the most recent time he’s played it live, and the total number of times he’s played it live?
Apologies for missing the week of June 24 — the first time I’ve missed a Tuesday since I started this format in January. I was at a residency at a place called Playa, in the dreamy wilds of south-central Oregon. I was situated next to Summer Lake, a seasonal desert lake fed by snowmelt, 20 miles long by 10 miles wide. The locals say it dries up entirely most summers, but this year it has water. A few of the dancers walked halfway across it. They said it was about a foot deep.
I was busy with three things really: (1) I’d get up in the morning and write songs, (2) I’d go for a run in the nearby Fremont National Forest, finding sections of the 175-mile Fremont Trail, (3) I’d head back to Playa and jump in the pond. Also met some lovely artist fellows and did a lot of thinking. I’m thinking about my residency at Joshua Tree, when I started writing songs in earnest, nine years ago. I’m thinking about controlling the stage as a solo artist. This is relevant for all performance of course, but I’m especially interested in how one person with a guitar can manage the flow of a set and rapport with an audience. I’m thinking about Anaïs Mitchell, who I heard last year and this year at Eaux Claires, who does this as well as anyone I’ve ever seen.
I’m thinking about swing. I wrote a song at Playa about fiddles, and how I’d like to have one. It’s called “Fiddle Song.” I’m thinking about Tommy Peoples, who has about the most unique swing-concept I’ve heard. I’m thinking about the national forests opening back up as the rains come to New Mexico. I’m thinking about another visit to Rio Grande del Norte National Monument this coming weekend. I’m thinking about jumping into the river and saying thanks.
Here are the lyrics to one of the tunes from at Playa, a song called “The Loom”:
I’ll take my coffee with some grit
I’ll take some tapes of Springsteen, some ‘70s shit
And I’ll hop into the van some night, heading some place where it rains
The warp and the weave will wobble
We’ll be willing, wishing, and wise
Waiting for the storm clouds to lift
And the bridge to arise
It’s only half a centimeter wide
So you can’t take your backpack or the precious things inside
It’s a filament of memory spun from our pleasures and pains
When our place in the pattern presents itself,
Our porous persistence will pause
This tapestry is what it will be,
Not what we thought it was
Yes, the warp and the weave will wobble
We’ll be dumbstruck, drunken, and torn
Waiting for sunset to come
So the bridge might be born
To mark the holiday I am tempted to remain in mute horror, wordless outrage. But let me give it a few words. The people running our executive branch are villains. The people running our legislative branch are neglecting their responsibility to check that villainy, and are hence fully culpable. These people are doing horrible things in the name of our country, and I will not let the past and ongoing political and systemic problems of that country, some of them grievous, unconscionable, tempt me into shoulder-shrugging bothsidesism. We have never been perfect. Perhaps we have never even been great. Actually, the fact that we are individually and collectively flawed is a basic premise of every religious tradition these people purport to respect. None of this absolves us of the responsibility to try and be better. There is no a priori assumption that just because we’re America we will always get a functioning government that isn’t actively trying to kill us. Our government is exactly as contingent as everyone else’s, and it hinges on real ethical questions. I will not let them muddy the waters: I am against everything these people are doing, and I’ll say it in any platform I have and to anyone who asks. Happy Fourth. Don’t set the woods on fire.
Valle Crucis, the latest Golconda, comes out Friday. Want to be notified the second it’s available? Why not subscribe to my newsletter? It only hits every couple months. Reviews have been positive. Vol. 17 to come on Friday.
Voila, the Valle Crucis cover art, by mysterious Réunion Island artist Po Nwar:
I used to think the key to songwriting was understanding the IV chord.
Then I realized that the key to songwriting was understanding the V chord.
Only now am I coming to grips with the truth, that the key to songwriting is understanding the I chord.
Playing through the early Beethoven piano sonatas this summer--opus 7, opus 10 no. 3—is a little like spending high school obsessing over the later Beatles records, then hearing “Please Please Me” again and realizing that before they were ever conceptualists, first they were a great rock and roll band.
New Mexico is on fire again. A year ago I hiked into the Pecos Wilderness and camped by Jacks Creek. We were pleasantly surprised to find some snow still piled on the shady slopes of East Pecos Baldy. Right now that wilderness, and the whole Santa Fe National Forest that sits around it, is closed to public access due to extreme fire danger.
I have a friend who coordinates conservation crews around the region. One crew was planning to work near Taos, close to the 36,000-acre Ute Park Fire. Actually they were set to be working on private land, and it looked like the project would proceed; but the landowner decided, given present conditions, that running chainsaws on the property might not be the best idea.
When I worked at Cottonwood Gulch, our policy was to voluntarily abide by the fire restrictions of surrounding Cibola National Forest. When they banned campfires, we’d put a pause to them too. Fire knows no distinctions of property ownership or land use. Fire does not notice barbed wire fencing.
The problem with wilderness is that it rests on a binarism. If certain land is set aside for complete preservation, the implication is that everything else sits for the plundering. Sacrifice zones are the opposite side of the same coin: you can’t invent one concept without immediately conjuring the other. Jedediah Purdy: “There is no equality among American landscapes.”
10 Best of 2014
January: Wyoming and the Open
February: New Mexico and the Holes
Notes on The Accounts