Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Time standing so still it flies

"Have you found that time seems to stop around here?" asked Trish over hot dogs at a local park on Little Pine Lake this evening. Time has become so still that I haven't noticed it go by--but, sadly, it does go by and too quickly. The last week has been full. In fact, in an unlikely twist, my social life here in rural north central Minnesota is perhaps fuller than it is in New York City. I'm loving my time here, and sorely regretting that I've passed the halfway mark. So, here's the update on the last week.

Last Thursday was my first experience of a New York Mills institution: the weekly ladies' cardgame held every Thursday night at "The Lick," the liquor store which is located inside City Hall. This is a raucous gathering of many of the ladies associated with the New York Mills Cultural Center who play a cardgame called "31," sort of a variant of the game 21 where, as you might expect, you're trying to make your cards add up to 31. Each player has three stakes representing 25 cents each, and the losers pay the winner 75 cents at the end of each game. The highlight of the game, of course, has little to do with the cards. The cardgame is really the weekly meeting where the ladies can catch up on the week's stories and gossip, from which no one is immune--especially not the visiting artist! I lost badly, at cards that is, and then bowed out at the relatively early hour of 10pm, as the remaining ladies were starting on their third gin and tonics, drunk with olives in individual plastic packaging, as there were no limes that night.

Friday night was the second gig of my four-gig series here in Otter Tail County. It was held at the Village Emporium, a unique nonprofit general store that represents a coalition of numerous local retailers. A large portion of the proceeds go to local nonprofit organizations, and some of the proceeds go to fund an effort to bring computers to Ghana and other developing countries--an effort dear to my heart as I was affiliated with similar activities in a past (pre-music) life. The show was a joy to perform, despite a rather lackluster day of trying to do work and not getting much accomplished. After my show, my friend Chris and I rigged up his LCD projector, laptop, and screen in his living room, and managed to see "Good Night and Good Luck" in one of the more comfortable and satisfying movie-watching experiences I've had in a long time. There may only be three official movie screens within thirty miles of this town, but technology is everywhere.

On Saturday, I had two surprises: a new merch case and a visitor. First I was introduced to a new merch case prepared for me by Jerome, of Jerome's antiques in Perham, MN. I had gone to see Jerome's incredible shop the first week I was in town, when I was looking for old suitcases that could serve as carrying and display cases for my merchandise for those shows where I wanted to bring more than the CDs and postcards that fit in my lovely antique lunchboxes. We couldn't find any that day, but a few days later, Jerome came across the perfect case for the perfect price ($5!). He put my initials on it, and hand-selected a number of antique postcards from New York City to paste on the outside. By the time I returned to the shop, the suitcase was perfectly customized for me. I'll be proud to show it off at my upcoming shows.

Surprise #2 was a visit by the up-and-coming Americana artist Dave Golden, who joined me for two New York Mills shows on Sunday. Dave has been compared to a lot of the greats including Bruce Springsteen, Jeff Tweedy, and Neil Diamond, among others. He is a musical virtuoso, and one of the most clear sighted music-makers I've encountered in this business. I was honored to share the stage with him again. And it didn't hurt that his guitar and harmonica made my songs sound wonderful. Dave's playing a show this Friday in NYC, and will probably play in your neighborhood sometime in the next year, so take a gander at his website and sign up onto his mailing list for a treat.

Dave and I managed to check out Fargo, North Dakota and some of the cool places around New York Mills. The Coen brothers movie put Fargo on the map for me, and I guess it loomed larger in my imagination than it does in real life. It's more like a large town than a city. One of the highlights for me was Zandbro's--a combination of a 1950's style soda-fountain, an artsy bookstore, and a general store full of gourmet odds and ends like handmade jewellery, hipster toys, high fashion bags, and luxury candles. It felt almost like it had been airlifted from Williamsburg, Brooklyn--albeit a fictional Williamsburg that has low rents and so much warehouse space that stores can be loft-sized. Another cool place is the refurbished art deco Hotel Dakota. And, if you're looking for a good meal in Fargo, definitely check out Monte's. Monte himself mans the door, and on the night we were there, he was dressed to kill in a far-too-fashionable-for-the-midwest gray patterned suit, shirt, and tie. At the end of our meal we had the opportunity to get to know Monte, and we learned that Monte lived in NYC for twenty-five years--which explains his outrageously awesome sense of fashion--and had only recently returned to, what he repeatedly called "the glorious American heartland." America's heartland or no, the prime rib of pork ("the Kobe beef of pork" as described by our waiter) was one of the best dishes I have ever had anywhere. Period.

Another treat over the last few days was a visit to Maplewood State Park on the Otter Tail Scenic Byway, an under-publicized gem of a park that is full of lakes and hills and forests of maple and nary a soul. After a two hour hike in this glorious place, I felt like all my stress had slid off my shoulders and was soaked up by the forgiving trees.

Yesterday, I had the rare pleasure of dining with another fascinating local, Rich Paper. Rich is affiliated both with the Cultural Center and the Ottertail County Historical Society, but once upon a time, Rich spent ten years as a monk in a Buddhist monastery in Sri Lanka. At his invitation, I went to Rich's house where Rich cooked me a decadent Caribbean meal complete with jerk chicken, vegetable "run-down," and lavender creme brulee. (I got to brulee the creme with Rich's handheld mini-blowtorch!). While he was cooking, and I was doing very little to help, Rich introduced me to his garden where we smelled the lilacs from his lilac tree, the apple blossoms from his apple tree, and the mint and sage from his herb garden. I also tasted the freshest baby arugula, asparagus, and dragon carrot I've ever had--picked literally milliseconds before I put them in my mouth. It was also a particular pleasure for me to talk with Rich about buddhism. I had spent three years as part of a Buddhist meditation community, and I didn't realize how much I missed the Buddhist perspective in my life. I have managed to secure an invitation for dinner with Rich again next week, and he has promised to cook some Sri Lankan food. My mouth is already watering.

Today I finally buckled down to work again after a few days that were so packed with other things that music practice and writing were relegated to the back burner. Well, not completely to the back burner, as I managed to complete a song I started a few days ago called "Quarter on the Rails." It's my first train song. I've been meaning to write a train song since a fan at one of my shows three years ago requested one. Last week, I had my second request for a train song, and figured it was time I wrote one. Considering that the artist bungalow I'm staying at is two blocks from a railroad track where a railroad passes every twenty minutes, this is the right place to write a train song. I haven't yet had a chance to record a demo, but as soon as I do, I'll post it.

This evening, I joined my new friends Steve and Tish at the park to roast hot dogs. It was windy, but gorgeous out with the sun streaming through the trees at the lake. We talked about all sorts of things, and I learned all about Steve's fascinating life, including his two-and-a-half year stint as Susan Tedeschi's tour manager. People out here are constantly surprising me with the breadth of their experiences. Steve and Tish then took me to the Pioneer Grounds, where the town of Perham, MN has been collecting old log buildings, including a wooden dance hall from the 1920's a miniature church, a stable, a jail, a log cabin, and a stage, in a beautiful field. We wandered around the rustic buildings as the sun set.

Then, I stopped at a service station, bought about five diffferent brands of horribly pre-packaged chocolate goodies, and made my way home to write. It's been good to write you this evening. See you on the road...

You never cease to amaze me! A Buddhist? I need to sit down with you and have you tell me your whole life history. Sounds like you're having an amazing time. xo :j
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