Issue 8

I left New York on the afternoon of Monday, the 26th of November, and arrived in England about seven Tuesday morning. Besides clothes and toiletries, my big suitcase and little wheelie were mainly full of CDs. I also had my fiddle, mandolin, and backpack. Only two items were allowed as carry-on, so the backpack had to go in luggage. Everything survived. I brought a Clive Barker book 'Galilee' to read. I had read nothing of his since the Books of Blood in the '80s. I had recently read two interviews of him, which filled me with great interest and respect. Before having kids I used to read maybe eighty to a hundred books a year. Since kids it's been less than ten. A good trade-off, though. I liked the book, which has since been passed to Jennifer Zogott-Levy and Antonia, and want to read more of him, someday when I have more time.

The first gig was for BBC radio in a high tech multi stage venue called the Ocean, which was a 24 million pound refitting of an old (Victorian?) (Edwardian?) building. I hadn't played for several days because of getting ready for the trip, and my chops were off. I was jet lagged, and got about seven hours sleep the first three days I was there. The sound check was three in the afternoon, and we went on at ten. The other two groups that did the show with us were (to me) thumbsucking electronica twaddle. They sure had some swell equipment, though.

I had looked through the monthly Ocean booklet to see if anything was going on before ten o'clock that might be interesting. There was. His name was Doudou Cissoko, and he was from Senegal, where, coincidentally, I am sponsoring a foster child. He sang with a sweet warm voice, and played the kora, a 21 string harplike instrument three or four feet tall that has been played by generations of Cissokos. The booklet said, of the kora, "whose tonality has both the svelte lyricism of a harp and the romanticism of the lute." By god, that sums it up. He was backed by a widely diverse bunch of Brits on guitar, cello, bass, and hand drums. I would recommend his debut recording if it's available 'Dimbaya' on db Records.

Although Gary played brilliantly, as always, I did not. I was nervous and tired, and like I said, having a bad chops day. Of course, the show was put on the radio and the net. We had just worked out We're Still Here, the song I had written about 9/11 for the Village Voice benefit album, Love Songs For New York, and that's where the song had its shaky debut. A lot of fans showed up, though, and they didn't seem to mind my playing as much as I did.

Despite the fact that when I give a crappy performance I feel crappy in general about everything afterwards, my thrilled-to-be-in-foreign-climes tendency uncrappified my mood pretty good.

I left the big suitcase full of CDs at the St. Giles for about $2 a night, and we flew to Holland the next day. It rained almost all the while we were there, but it was my first time, and stuff like salted licorice you could get in vending machines more than made up for it. The club in Rotterdam was called the Worm, and my old friend Ed Ward, who had written the liner notes for the vinyl two record Prestige reissue that came out in the '70s, showed up. I hadn't seen him since the '70s. I had gotten some sleep by this time, and it was a nice, friendly place with a nice, friendly crowd.

People remarked a lot about my enthusiasm while playing as if it was something highly unusual. Maybe over there it is. Under ideal circumstances, which, fortunately, are most of the time, I really get off playing music. Unlike almost everybody else who performs, I never worked out moves and expressions in front of a mirror or did some equivalent "preparation", and this along with my natural hammyness makes my performing pretty - I don't know - open or something. We played two sets, about three hours worth.

I had anticipated spending a little time in Rotterdam, as they had a Hieronymus Bosch exhibit there. But we had to get right to Amsterdam the next day. I quickly came to realize that there wouldn't be that much extra time for sleeping late and sightseeing.

We checked into our rooms in Amsterdam. Speaking of performing with enthusiasm, the Five Blind Boys of Alabama were staying at the same hotel. Gary had made a recording with them some time back. It seems he's made a recording with almost everybody some time back, or in the present, or will eventually. So I met them and shook their hands before our show. Who could ask for anything more? Their enthusiasm is legendary. In their case, it's the Holy Spirit taking over. Maybe all good enthusiasm is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Maybe all bad enthusiasm is diabolic.


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