I should mention straightaway that as I write this, I'm listening to the magnificent Lori McKenna and her beautiful new record. In the '90s, every time she played Club Passim in Harvard Square, I'd sit in the dark listening room, tears streaming down my face at her shaky alto and plain-speak songs. I'm not crying now, but I am remembering...
Ten years ago, I drove across the country in a vegetable-oil-fueled van full of instruments and hopes. At the height of summer, my band (me, Scott on drums, and Jeremy on bass) had been on the road for a few months, sleeping on couches and floors of -- can we just call those people angels? -- angels, who gave us shelter, food, and good words of encouragement. By July 2006, we'd played shows almost every night through New England and down the eastern seaboard (new tires in Maryland) to Atlanta (where fans donated so much oil-fuel we nearly floated away), across the belly of the south, over the Mississippi River into Arkansas (new windshield), down to Texas (a week dodging tumbleweeds and drinking Shiner Bock), into Arizona for my mother's partner's birthday party where we were the house band.
We played shows into California, and at the end of July, more than three months after leaving Boston, we rolled into a full moon-lit Los Angeles, and I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. I stood on the edge of the continent, alone, digging my toes into the sand of El Matador State Beach, waves swirling around my ankles, giant boulders silhouetted by the moon, the strumming of a far-off acoustic guitar. I couldn't take my eyes off the moon. If I said a prayer, it must have been one for illumination. I was 31 and had been wanderlust-dreaming for at least a decade. For so long, I'd wanted the life of a touring musician. Yet, after more than 3000 miles, I found that life on the road was not for me. I couldn't write rumbling over freeways. I couldn't sleep well in a different town every night. I needed time alone. And I wanted to cook a meal in a familiar kitchen, and eat fresh vegetables.
It took the Veggie Mobile until November to get back to Boston, via Iowa (more loving than I had ever imagined), Ohio (more beautiful), Wisconsin (more lonely). Milwaukee was, to me, the bottom of the barrel: We played to an empty club and then slept on the beer-soaked barroom floor till morning. By Rochester, New York, Jeremy and I were barely talking; it must've been around Montpelier, Vermont that I had the first inklings that our time on the road was nearing an end.
The night we played our official release party for Something Pretty Something True, we unpacked our gear at The Lizard Lounge on Mass. Ave in Cambridge, one of my favorite clubs to play. The show was a phenomenal success: Elizabeth & the Catapult opened, and we sold out the club. All I remember, though, is feeling blurry, broken, and strung out.
A day or so later, on a stage in New Hope, PA, I choked back a storm of tears and left the stage unable to sing another word. We dropped Jeremy off in Virginia, and I've not seen him since. Scott and I crashed his parents' peaceful house on the edge of the Chesapeake Bay to reassess. Though I'd never knitted a thing in my life, in those six weeks I made eleven purses out of purple and green yarn in a sort of desperate healing convalescence. I was trying to knit myself back together, but it took years to strum my guitar again, years before I again found my voice.
Recently I played Something Pretty, Something True, and now I can't get enough of it. The way Chris flipped the guitars backwards on "Pull And Push." The muted trumpet on "5pm Busk." The boisterous clarinet on "Missing You." The everything on "Prefer You Were A Girl." Ten years later, I am still proud of that record. I'm still grateful to Passion Records and Chris Florio and all the amazing players - Scott Manley, Mariana Iranzi, Andy Eggleston, Lindsay Mac, Adam Ollendorff, Forbes Graham, and Hammersing.
A few CD copies of Something Pretty are still available for order on the music page and of course it's downloadable at iTunes. No pretty pictures, but the music rocks.