Chapel Hill. The one and only Simon Harper, late of the original cast of 4AD, most British of all possible Brits (we always said he suffered from “phantom bowler” syndrome), friend, confidant and work associate extraordinaire, meets us for dinner in a loft-like restaurant near the Cat’s Cradle.
Simon and I have done many a promo tour together; he once had to escort me throughout Europe while I was pregnant and puking, and he smiled the whole time, which made me smile the whole time, which wasn’t easy.
He was publicity’s James Bond. When interviews got hairy, Simon would step in and offer tea and a change of subject. When that didn’t work, time would mysteriously speed up and the sex-and-death-obsessed journalist’s hour would suddenly be over, the journalist gently persuaded to wrap it up and be on his way by the inimitable Simon.
He enjoyed this part of his job, as he hated everyone; an equal opportunity misanthrope.
And now Simon and I will be working together again after all these years: he is living in America and working with Yep Roc, my new U.S. label. We struggle to catch up over one dinner, trying to fill each other in with timelines and stories, but really, Simon is still Simon and that’s all I need to know.
Chapel Hill. I visit my new label for the first time. Everyone there is smart; they’re funny and serious, real ‘music people’. They seem excited about their jobs and the company itself. They’re even excited about the future of music.
They project YouTube footage of me playing an in-store on the wall of their meeting room. Nobody boos.
Atlanta. I take the boys to Little Five Points to show them where I lived when I was a kid. They feign interest very sweetly, but they don’t seem to like it much.
They do like the playground with art instead of swings, though. They climb all over some discs and hang on poles and swing each other around platforms with spheres attached. The dogs and I watch, confused.
At the in-store, I see some old friends and a little girl wearing a 50FootWave t-shirt dances throughout my set.
I go live on the radio tonight with an amazing lady named Margot who is on a seemingly subversive mission to broaden her listeners’ horizons by challenging them ever so gently with good songs in between Coldplay and other crap. She is warm and intelligent and realistic and working.
She overhears that we haven’t eaten all day and gives us clementines, a family favorite.
“How did you know?” we ask. She smiles.
Nashville. Trina Shoemaker’s house. She lives in a barn with her little boy on 11 acres of mountain and meadow. I haven’t seen Trina in 2 years; I don’t think I realized how much I missed her until now.
She hasn’t changed, really. She still Windexes the dog and lives on coffee. But she’s softer now. She seems more comfortable. Her little boy is the happiest kid I’ve ever met. He has black eyes. Really, black ones.
The last time I saw him was in New Orleans, before the storm, and he was a little cube. A square infant. I pointed this out to her and she wrote a delightful song about “the little square man” that she sings to him to this day.
I give her a bunch of copies of “Learn to Sing”, a record we made together, after all. She immediately begins to read the lyrics, which makes me uncomfortable.
“Don’t worry, I already know them,” she says.
Nashville. In-store at Grimey’s. I have an interview in the basement (which turns out to be an actual club called “The Basement”) before the in-store begins. A woman carries some boxes in during the interview, then leaves, closing the enormously heavy door behind her. After this, it will not open again. I’m already 5 minutes late for the in-store and the journalist and I are trapped beneath it.
Billy knocks on the door and calls for me to let him in. I yell back that I would if I could.
“Honey, it’s locked,” he yells. “You have to unlock it!”
“No, you have to unlock it!” I yell back.
The journalist frantically begins calling people on her cell phone, begging to be rescued.
I am now 10 minutes late for the in-store. I can hear muffled music and people walking around up there. Billy leaves, then returns with someone who also agrees that the door is locked and needs unlocking. I sit down to read the paper.
Suddenly, in a whoosh of cold air, Billy and 2 other guys fall into the room, having unlocked the heavy door. They are flushed with adventure and cold. Some idiot shuts the door. We’re all locked in now. Someone borrows the journalist’s cell phone to call upstairs and get someone to really let us out – for good.
Now I’m 15 minutes late for the in-store, but nobody cares. They feed me blueberry beer (ack). I say it tastes like alcoholic pop tarts and the guy who gave it to me says, “Yeah, I like it, too”.
After I play and sign some CD’s, I race out to see Vic Chesnutt, who is recording in a studio here. He leaves tomorrow morning, weather permitting. I pray for snow so that we can have breakfast together, too.
I carry a six-pack of normal beer into the kitchen (“Is that tacky?” I ask Vic. “No, it’s classy,” he says), I proceed to melt into Vic Land, a funny place where everything is dangerous and comfortable and sounds good and I don’t have to play it. Tonight, Vic plays songs without vocals.
“Instrumentals?” I ask.
“No. Just no lyrics.”
“Isn’t that an instrumental?”
“Well, at first.”
After we leave, he writes all the lyrics, of all things. What a freak.
Louisville. Leaving the kids at Trina’s house, Billy and I trek out into the unrecognizably frigid south for some NPR and an in-store at Ear X-Tacy. This part of the country is covered in snow right now, traffic doesn’t move and we are an hour late for live radio.
Again, no one seems to care. We’re wondering if maybe we’re the only musicians who ever show up anywhere on time — or freak out when they’re late — which makes us feel like dorks. The people at WFPK are so nice — sweet as pie — and I don’t deserve pie today.
Outside the in-store I decide I do deserve champagne, though. I probably decide this because I’m so hungry; it’s been days since we’ve really eaten. The kids eat, but Billy and I just never have time. So we score a bottle of our favorite cheap champagne (a guy named Thuki turned us onto it — $10 a bottle and awesome) and drink it in the parking lot of the record store in the backseat of our car.
“Is this tacky?”, I ask Billy.
“No, it’s classy,” he says.