It is cold. It is cold. It is so fucking cold. Like, no degrees — plus some giant number below — with wind chill. I’m a west coast weather pussy now, I guess, ’cause this hurts.
Best signage on the way to Ann Arbor: “Used Cows For Sale” and “Nervous Charlie’s Fireworks and Beer”.
In-store in Ann Arbor. Very cold. People come anyway, which amazes me. They bring their children: freezing cold children in snowsuits with bright red noses. Billy swears into the mic in front of the freezing children and then looks ill. He tries to apologize and somehow swears again in the apology. He shoots me a distressed look.
“Harder than it looks, isn’t it?” I say.
“Hell, yeah…” he covers the mic with his hand. “Is ‘hell’ a swear?”
Radio session with Rob Reinhart at Acoustic Café. It’s nice to see him again. It’s so cold and early, though, that my hands aren’t working right. I stop and start over a couple of times, something I never let myself do, but it isn’t live and I owe Rob a real performance, he’s been so good to me over the years.
Afterwards, Billy and I talk with Rob about the future of the music business. All three of us feel, inexplicably, that things are looking up — that the crap is being buried under itself, that an energy is bubbling up from underneath, that substance will win out over style.
Probably wishful thinking, but it keeps us from having to walk outside for another 15 minutes. Soon, though, they give us fancy and free Acoustic Café t-shirts and send us back out into the snow. The sun is shining and the cold still hurts.
A genuine blizzard in Chicago today. We barely make it into town. Trucks are jackknifed on the highway, cars slide all over the place. Billy drops me off at Borders for an interview while he looks for parking, but I don’t know the journalist’s name or even its gender.
So I sit in the café hoping I look something like the poster of me on the door, reading the magazines that were left on the table: “Guns Monthly” and “Duck Hunter”. No journalist finds me, but our friend Darrell shows up. He risked his life to come to a Borders in-store, poor bastard. We talk for a good half hour and he seriously cheers me up (Darrell has the best laugh) but we’re both still cold.
Then Billy comes in with the writer, a lovely man who looks sixteen (lots of people look sixteen to me now, it seems). I give Darrell my gun and duck magazines to help him kill time until the in-store and the Boy Writer buys me a coffee to warm my lips up enough to talk.
And then people show up! Lots of people — cold ones, but they’re there. I can’t believe it. After I play, I sign CD’s for a long time. I draw a silver Sharpie tattoo on a guy’s face (at his request) and it looks so good, we all get them.
Then we drive across town to tape a Valentine’s Day special for WXRT. I’m supposed to play songs from my iPod that I find romantic. So far, they only have guy musicians on their Valentine special and they wanted a girl for a more balanced approach to romance, though they readily admit that I am not a girl.
“You look like a girl,” they say, “maybe if you just parked your enormous balls in the hallway…” Nice.
I play Vic’s song, “To Be With You”, X’s “True Love”, Latin Playboys “If”, the Velvet’s “Pale Blue Eyes” and REM’s “Perfect Circle”.
It is cold in Madison. Really cold. Even for Madison. Schools are closed. Our dogs’ feet freeze to the ground when they go out to pee.
I do The Onion, a radio session and an in-store. It. Is. Cold.
I don’t know what made me think a winter day in Minneapolis would ever be warmer than anything — some wild hope that there was no such thing as colder anymore, I guess. But it is, in fact, colder here.
I do Minnesota Public Radio, though, and am totally, unabashedly, star struck. When we were kids, Tanya, my brother David and I would take the Providence bus to Dude’s house every weekend. Dude would blast Prarie Home Companion while we all made pizza together, kneading dough, chopping vegetables. Now snowy nights, Lake Wobegone and the smell of pizza cooking are nicely mixed up together in my head.
So after the session, a nice man takes my picture in front of the “Powdered Milk Biscuits” sign and I send it to Dude.
Before the Electric Fetus in-store, I do a radio interview downstairs. The woman who interviews me appears sweet and jolly at first, but at one point during the interview, she drops her head and burts into tears. I try desperately to lengthen my answer, as this is radio, but do it lamely, “…and so…in other words…I mean…as I said before…”, etc. She composes herself eventually, then mouths the word, “thank you” and continues the interview.
Every employee of Electric Fetus lives up to the Minneapolis myth: funny, sweet, understated and smart. We spend way too much time hanging with them after I sign CD’s and the kids are starving by the time we leave. So we walk out to find Thai soup with the help of a little red haired woman we meet on the street. She shames us into not complaining about the cold. I mean, we walk far — and I don’t think I’ve ever been that cold — but she has no hat or gloves or scarf and chatters happily the whole time. The kids watch her as if she were an alien.
Ran out of gas on the way to Omaha. Felt stupid.
The gas gauge couldn’t work in this extreme cold, so we didn’t realize we were running out of gas until it was too late. Billy and Ryder ran across snowy fields and hopped barbed wire fences to get to the public works garage while a tow truck driver drove the two little boys and me. He called neighbors on the way, asking them not to “shoot” Billy and Ryder.
“Shoot?” I ask him when he hangs up.
He smiles, “No, I said don’t shoot.”
I thank him for this.
The good people at Homer’s in Omaha didn’t seem to mind that we were late. In fact, they had read about the lack of beer on this promo tour and had little kegs brought in for me. Now that’s hospitality.
They even had lemonade and drawing supplies for the kids and a little private hang-out area where the boys could drink the lemonade and draw pictures during my set. Afterwards, they offer us our choice of CD’s, something no stores do anymore (times are tough). We thank them for their generosity and don’t take anything, as times are tough and we know it.
On the way to Denver, Billy spends food money on a lottery ticket.
“Seriously?” I ask, “’cause that’s pretty much the definition of poor people.”
“Yeah, well, so are we,” he answers.
“Maybe not for long, though, huh? Did you play the right numbers this time?”
We then spend the afternoon at Costco — Billy changes the car battery (by himself! No swearing!) while the kids and I picnic in the sunshine of the employee smokers’ area. We eat as much as we can of the Giant Food we bought and then drive (with our new battery!) over to Twist and Shout, one of the best independent record stores in the country.
We get a little lost, of course, but it’s not cold out anymore and about a million (I didn’t actually count) people are waiting for me to play when we get there. That plus some excellent salt water fish tanks and bellies full of Costco keep everyone happy until it’s time to go.
Things are looking up…
Posted in: words on March 21, 2007