January 2009
Absolute Vertical

Tender Buttons reminded me of two photos from Andrea Scher's blog. A bookstore arranged by COLOR. Dreamy eye/mind candy!



And the blue green wall....

both bookstore photos: Andrea Scher


I have been known to buy books just for their covers, sometimes just for their titles.
When I was first traveling around the country with each new-born record, Borders was a unique and exciting place. I would do little in-store performances in their cafes, fighting for  air time with the cappucino machines; Ann Arbor, Chicago, Minneapolis, and in return, I would get $75 gift certificates. JOY! I think it was Detroit where I bought "Sunken Red" just for the title. It's still on my list of powerful serendipitous treasures. Of course, my suitcase got ridiculously heavy, and on every day off, I would have to send home boxes of lovelies. Borders is now chapter 11. Those were the days.

My father was a journalist, my mom is a poet, my oldest brother a writer and teacher. Books are sacred in our family. Any time any of us moves, it's the books that are lovingly dusted off and placed first in the new house.


my dad at his thundering typewriter.

John Updike died yesterday. Today in the New York Times, there were a couple excerpts from his writing. His were the first books I remember tasting like candy. I recall sneaking into my parents' bedroom and reading "Couples" when they were at work. It was grown up and sexy, I was smitten.

This is from "Assorted Prose:"

We recently had a carpenter build a few things in our house in the country. It's an old house, leaning away from the wind a little; its floors sag gently, like an old mattress. The carpenter turned his back on our tilting walls and took his vertical from a plumb line and his horizontal from a bubble level, and then went to work by the light of these absolutes. Fitting his planks into place took a lot of those long, irregular oblique cuts with a ripsaw that break an amateur's heart. The bookcase and kitchen counter and cabinet he left behind stand perfectly up-and-down in a cockeyed house. Their rectitude is chastening. For minutes at a stretch, we study them, wondering if perhaps it isn't, after all, the wall that is true and the bookcase that leans. Eventually, we suppose, everything will settle into the comfortable crooked, but it will take years, barring earthquakes, and in the meantime we are annoyed at being made to live with impossible standards.

                              John Updike

I just love the pull of the absolutes of vertical and level in that cockeyed house. I still find an emotional pull in the handmade cherry wood bookshelves my dad, always practical, gave me for Christmas one year.


And the antique plumb line he found for my birthday the year that "Plumb" came out. They are sometimes my absolute. My reminder and comfort when the world is cockeyed. They are also my chastening standards. The nagging call to get back to work.

 Back to the comfortable crooked.



Tender Buttons

Once in a while, you turn a corner in this overwhelming city, and you come across a tiny door to the past.

Before I left for Europe, I had tea with two of my New York pals, and then Sandrine (she took the recent slew of smiley pix on the site) and I went in search of a button store that she had heard about. Her husband is Will Lee, the fabulous bass player. And he's known for his rather outrageous outfits on the Letterman show. Well, Sandrine was looking for some buttons for one of his crazier suits, and I was looking for buttons for the crazy coat I'm almost finished knitting.


There it was, on 62nd street, between Lex and 3rd. "Tender Buttons." I never thought of buttons as having qualities, or feelings, but once inside, I became a believer. It was like a pet store where you feel the pleading desire of each tiny animal, "please choose me, take me hoooome."


One wall is lined top to bottom with brown boxes. At the end of each box, the buttons it contains are attached. The other wall has glass display cases, locked with tiny antique locks. The buttons inside are exquisite, bejeweled, mother of pearl, mother of god gorgeous. There are one of a kind creations from the twenties. Beautiful antique sterling match holders. Trinkets and tchotchkes. You could spend a week and not see every treasure.

The floors creak, the sales people are elderly and quite creaky themselves, but this store was a vivid reminder of all that is quickly fading. Tiny stores that specialize in one thing are so rare. This is why I insist on buying all my books at my favorite local bookstore; Crawford Doyle Bookseller even when they have to order them for me. I know I could have them more quickly and cheaply from amazon. But I am desperate to hold on to some piece of this other time.

Maybe this is why I love France so much. There is still a little store for the bread and croissants, a butcher for the meat, a fish place to buy your seafood, another tiny shop for your linens. You ALWAYS say "Bonjour Madame, Monsieur" when you enter any establishment. And "Merci, au revoir" when you leave. The notoriously cranky creaky French do things a certain way and enforce the rituals they cherish. And I LOVE this.

Maybe this is all part of that other conversation about the value of music, the domination of gismos and high speed acquisitions of digital media. Sometimes I feel we're losing our attention span, our ability to slow down and have a real conversation. To remember the VALUE of real things. We defer to texting instead of picking up the phone. We email, we don't have time to stop and LISTEN. But where's the magic in that? Where's the story?

Maybe this collapse of the economy, the shaming of the greedy is all part of a forced re-calibration of priorities. Did we really need more stuff? Is wealth at any cost really something to aspire to?

Tender Buttons is cash only, and it is not cheap, and don't let them catch you taking pictures! I had trouble deciding and so got two choices for my coat of many colors; crazy purple, and classic tortoise. Now I just have to finish knitting.



or the tortoise?


I'll have to let you know which ones win!



Oh Cannes, Yes we CAN

Oh Cannes, Cannes, yes we CAN. It's Obama's day and It's so strange to be so far away in the South of France. But never have I seen French people waving American flags until today!!! It feels so nice not to cower and be quiet about being American.


I'm here at the big European music conference, MIDEM. I've been to panels and showcases. Mostly just eavesdropping. Everyone's talking about the wide open field. How things are changing moment to moment. How the smart phone is the future and the fun part will be the third party applications that will change our worlds! Apparently in a year we won't even recognize the music business.

And I'm just wistful I guess. CDs are over. Music is "consumed" that's a big word here, primarily on cell phones, song by song. Young, developing artists have to bushwack their way through the jungle of YouTubes and Pandoras and ‘Whatevah's" to hopefully catch someone's ear somewhere and hopefully miraculously attract a steady income. But the name of the game is to make a lot of stuff cheaply and throw it out there for FREE. That's right, as we've known for a while now, music is just going to be FREE. It "wants" to be free. What's the problem? You can still tour and sell your t-shirts.

Well, if I hear one more boasty !@#$%^ (insert word of your choice here) talk about how amazing it was when Radiohead gave away their record for free, when Prince gave away 2 million copies of his new record, How cooooool Coldplay was when they gave away their music..How exciting it is to go after all this NEW money that's out there, how to monetize all these new alternative streams .blah blah blah blah. One guy yesterday was going on about new artists seeking out venture capital, and advertising revenue. Ummmmmm. Just because you have a web site, just because you made a record, just because you put a cute stream of yourself up on YouTube doesn't mean people will suddenly love you and make you a star. It's pretty rare that magically the masses and the money will start flowing to your door.

The major label music "business" still centers around a very few choice artists who are marketed and promoted like crazy. The rest? Building a CAREER? That may be a concept of the past. Seems like the new model is more about fifteen minutes, which is now really ten in the new attention span.

Don't get me wrong. I'm stoked about the possibilities of all the stuff people are coming up with. There are a gazillion really cool ways to infiltrate and disseminate. And I'm loving the immediacy of it all. But still, NO ONE is answering the nagging, fundamental question of how to make a living making music. None of these bozos ( and I use the term lovingly) is fessing up.

So I will. It's getting harder and harder. I don't know how it will continue to be possible. Digital sales are lovely and wonderful, but they do not make up for the loss of brick and mortar, physical sales. There is no ad revenue for mid-level artists who draw a respectable but moderate stream of visitors to their sites. Another guy on another panel yesterday was all a-bliss about going after YouTube and getting a share of their ad revenue for one of his artists. She had had about two hundred million views. And it took him 9 months and I would imagine a bevy of high end lawyers to get it done. He admitted that one of his ‘newer' artists had had twenty million views and that amounted to about $15,000. But again, it took almost a year of fighting with Google/YouTube. Most of us just can't swing that. And he had the clout of the biggest single at the time behind him.


radiohead's manager, Brian Message.

Enough. I have been saying for years now, that no one is speaking up for the "middle class" artists out there. It's just not as sexy I guess. So I'll keep trying. Meanwhile, "Bootstraps" I say! You can hook them around your ears if you've been pulling them up for long enough!! Enough again. Forgive my rant.

My most favorite part of being here? Seeing old friends who have survived the ups and downs. My champions and fans who have persevered because they LOVE MUSIC.

Jim Cuomo, from RYKO, jb and Russell Aiello, from PLUMB days


Tom Glagow, my biggest German champion, MCA and Chrysalis and now C.A.R.E Music.


My glass is raised to these guys, and hopefully I will get more pictures up and be able to honor more of the people who have stood by me. Bottom line? I still love my job.

And GOD BLESS OBAMA. There were people gathered all over here in front of tvs, French, Danish, Japanese, even some Romanians, all waving tiny flags, tearing up at Obama's bold powerful words. May we all rally and support him no matter which side of the fence we;re on. I think we all have the opportunity and the responsibility to collectively "do the right thing." The state of the world is embarrassing. We've lost track of the most precious things in the face of greed and caprice, ignorance and power-mongering. This is our mirror and our window. I will keep looking inward so that I can try harder to see out.



Hand me downs

I don't have kids of my own. I've always joked that I have a hostile womb. Sometimes people will come up to me when I'm signing autographs and insist that I MUST have a child. Insist that I will REGRET it if I don't. Well, I should INSIST that it's none of their business, really. But usually I just smile and say thank you for the compliment, because I DO take it as a compliment.
I am one of those people who never had that GREAT CERTAINTY about having children. And I have always believed that in order to really do the right thing by any little being that you usher into the world, you'd damn well better have that GREAT CERTAINTY.

I also love my life exactly the way it is.

I have two incredible step kids. They are grown up and exquisite human beings that I love to be with. They came to visit for Christmas, and we had a blast playing trivial pursuit, boggle, watching bad action movies, and basically not ever getting out of our pajamas.
I have five nieces and nephews and love watching as they go through alternately awful and wonderful stages. And I always get to go home at the end of the weekend!
Recently I sent three huge boxes of hand-me downs to my niece Ariel who is in art school in Maine. She had a yard sale/fashion show in her dorm:

 lovely spring poncho, if spring ever comes.


Nikki in a lovely vintage confection


Lovely black cardigan by je ne sais qui


Dorothy's red cowboy boots. There's no place like...


Ok, I'm not sure who made the bath mat into a hoodie


Never a party until the sock monkey starts breaking out the moves in her lingerie.


Needless to say, these are a few of my favorite reasons why I'm happy to be an aunt, and (i like to think) a pretty cool step-mother. Suits me fine. And, look, no diapers!!


Stay warm out there. It's just not funny at all what's going on.



moody monday

Oh, sad weekend in New York. There's a vague, uncomfortable depression in the air. First there was the snow. I had hoped it would amount to something. But as usual, all we were left with was a little dusting in the park, and treacherous crunchy obstacle courses at all the crosswalks. 

snowy saturday


And then there was football Sunday. The Giants just couldn't pull it off. Poor Eli, and what a crappy, lacklustre, cold windy day. And shame on Plaxico (who names their kid Plaxico anyway?) for throwing away an amazing career and leaving his teammates in the lurch.


Well, it's cold but the sun's doing its best, and Mondays always bring hope. So here's to hopeful Monday. And go Steelers, I guess.

sunny Monday





Things that don't make sense

Sun window day.

Two nights ago, they found that a still born baby boy's body was missing from a Jersey City hospital. They think he went out with the trash so now they have to search through a whole city's garbage for his remains.

Yesterday afternoon, Mr. Peterson from 8K was wheeled out on an ambulance gurney for the second time since Christmas. His perfect white hair was still in place and he waved, smiling as they loaded him in.

So I went to the plumbing supply store and stood in line as twenty guys with dirty work pants and skull caps waited for clamps and piping and nipple parts for their joints. Back to earth.
Then I bought a book. "The Mercy Papers." There is refuge in words. Words swell my heart. I breathe faster, tears well up, I feel guilty because it feels like I'm not DOING anything, but I can't get enough. Words. Beautifully arranged, tenderly sequenced words. They make sense of the world. Where people die randomly and there seems to be no mercy for the everyday Joes. And the war in Israel… And every other bit of news is dire and self-fulfilling.

I will try to MAKE good news. There. I will persevere with joy and kindness. I did one of those interviews with a newspaper somewhere where they ask you 50 questions to answer really quickly, off the top of your head….

One of the questions:
"My one piece of advice would be…?"
My answer:
"Just don't be an asshole. Or in kinder terms. Just BE NICE."

Happy to be back to frazzled deadlines, and lists and routines. The holidays, although I love seeing friends and family and knitting like a fiend, throw me a little off  kilter. Bring it!


Knitting, CSI, laundry, books

Ok it's official. The new class listings are up for the SQUAM ART WORKSHOPS in beautiful New Hampshire on Squam Lake. (Think "On Golden Pond.") I am planning a daylong songwriting workshop. A little bit of music biz travelling, and then jumping into the mystery and magic of making little two and a half minute stories with music. There are also sessions in June this year – textiles, sewing knitting. YUMMM.

The other courses look incredible. I think I will try to be braver this year and jump into some kind of visual art crash course adventure. I've always felt intimidated by that kind of thing so why not? Last year I had to buy a camera to participate in Andrea Scher's photography/superhero course, so what about some paint brushes and glue and watercolor paper!!

The holidays were blissfully uneventful. Some days, I barely made it out of my pajamas. I've been knitting, renting movies, reading amazing poetry, re-discovering how inspiring WRITER writers are. In my pile at the moment: Sharon Olds (all time beloved) her new book "One Secret Thing" is just out. I will never tire of the violence and gristle of her work. I'm revisiting Wislawa Szymborska heaven. Marilynne Robinson's "Home" is on the pile. I loved "Gilead" so much I had to see what she's done next. And then there's a quirky book of short stories I can't get enough of "No one belongs here more than you" by Miranda July. Between the knitting and the reading (ok, and CSI re-runs) I'm a happy couch potato.

i think this will be a coat??


the world in a ball of yarn

I'm sure I will be extra restless soon. I do miss the road when I'm home for too long. Once all the laundry's done and I've tinkered with the bits and pieces of songs begun along the way, I need to get back out there and fight the fight. SING in a ROOM with PEOPLE. I think I will never tire of this, even though the traveling is grueling and uncomfortable, I am grateful night after night to be doing what I LOVE.

One more for the road… last weekend we were at a friend's house and I caught this little cutie reading Willie Nelson's new book with her psychedelic glasses on.

the tao of willie


It's a gray gloomy day. Another good day to knit, re-group, conserve, re-connect. Weird how this time of year can be so festive and so discombobulating. I miss the routines and the frantic overscheduled days!! I'm sure they're coming.


gray window day


more soon, i swear!!




 p.s. you MUST look at this video recap of SQUAM ART WORKSHOPS on Jen Gray's site. Everything she says is true. If you have any inkling, fibre, notion, leading you to a crayon or a ukelele or a needle and thread....