March 22, 2013
Recording Roots from FRANK DIGITAL on Vimeo.View full post
“Better than Eat, Pray, Love” – Estelle Dube-Parent, Cabine Soleil Retreat Centre I am a Sparrow is finally here and for sale only at www.alanalevandoski.com/store!!! There is no other place you can purchase this book and CD unless you host Alana at a house concert, bring her into one of your retreats or see …View full post
Alana has been hard at work this fall writing a book and making a record! The book and album are a complete work of art, as each chapter is paired with a song. The new project will accompany Alana on her upcoming European tour and will be available online by February 15th! To see the …View full post
Hi there!!! Its been two years since I’ve made it across the pond but I’m proud to announce I am doing a small but exceptional bunch of dates in January and February 2013. I will be bringing my new book of journals about my trip last year called I am a Sparrow: a Woman’s Music …View full post
“Better than Eat, Pray, Love” – Estelle Dube-Parent, Cabine Soleil Retreat Centre
I am a Sparrow is finally here and for sale only at www.alanalevandoski.com/store!!!
There is no other place you can purchase this book and CD unless you host Alana at a house concert, bring her into one of your retreats or see her at one of these said events!!!
Click HERE to order your signed copies
Alana has been hard at work this fall writing a book and making a record! The book and album are a complete work of art, as each chapter is paired with a song. The new project will accompany Alana on her upcoming European tour and will be available online by February 15th! To see the dates for Alana’s upcoming tour click HERE!!!
November 30, 2012
Its been two years since I’ve made it across the pond but I’m proud to announce I am doing a small but exceptional bunch of dates in January and February 2013. I will be bringing my new book of journals about my trip last year called I am a Sparrow: a Woman’s Music Pilgrimage as well as a new record also called I am a Sparrow. My record is a humble collection of my own songs and old folk tunes. I am proud of this project!
I have invited the fantastic emerging fiddler and songwriting talent Braden Gates to open the shows! We are co-producing his latest record next week and I can promise you it is going to be good.
Check out the dates for my shows HERE!!!
Hello! I was digging around my mac today and found the beginnings of a novel about twenty-something roommates set in Winnipeg. This is from around 2007. I was a twenty-something and you can tell. I think my favourite part is when I say “ Like most women in their twenties who think that some men aren’t like other men, Helen had thought Thomas wasn’t like other men.” Happy reading, or, happy chuckling anyway. xo
When four young single people decide to live under one roof, for whatever reason, be it financial, social or safety, the result can be either very rewarding or cataclysmic, but often both at the same time. An entire era of memories can come from this time when our accountability is suspended, when we are unattached and free. But if we are unwilling to let the era be what it was, it has this funny way of entrapping us in a cyclical rut of nostalgia, until we find ourselves dancing at a club where the theme is the ’90′s and everyone is somehow dressed like you, only you’re not in costume.
Nick, Eli, Robyn and Helen lived as roommates during such an era. They co-existed in a capsule that gave birth to many life-markers that influenced the rest of their lives.
The era of the Western single in their twenties is a phenomenon that still lives on, well after Douglas Coupland first started writing about the bomb. And it continues to, well after these four characters made their way to another phase of their stories.
Robyn Fellows an art major, owned an old two story home she had purchased in the Wolesley Area of Winnipeg – a Northern city above the American border in a country called Canada.
Winnipeg is extremely defined by it’s seasons. A Winnipeg summer is hot and humid and filled with so many festivals that they overlap each other. The residents of Winnipeg’s summertime express themselves with such celebration and stimulation because it is reeling from the length of it’s winter. It simply has to express joy through entertainment and fill the streets with people to prove to each other that they have bodies underneath all the parkas and scarves.
Spring is dirty. Melting snow mixed with sand. That infernal sand. Aliens tapping into our satellite system could look at a street in Winnipeg in the early springtime and think that winter was brown. Not white. And certainly not green. They might wonder why the inhabitants are wearing clothes that might be more fit for a hot summer day, in say March, just because the temperature has risen above the freezing level. They might marvel at the one sprig of greenery in one of the miserable, wet snowy parks downtown and think that there was little hope for these life forms who have a startling vitamin D deficiency.
To survive six months of SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as the winter blahs, many Winnipeggers listen to music, play music, or drink. Or all of the above. Art and alcohol are the main ingredients to surviving a Winnipeg winter. It starts early too.
With September being a New Year, to many students, parents of school age children and the observers of Rosh Hashanah, there is the sense of a fresh start in the air. And if you’re single in Winnipeg, and you have a fresh start at anything, you call your friends and walk to meet them at the local drinking establishment.
Reunions are an essential way to pass the time in this northern city. So and so has come into town and they are staying at so and so’s house and they are having a potluck to commemorate old times. Potlucks are where people meet to reminisce the battle of the bands competition of 2002, or to remember when Gordo and Sarah were going to be the lovers that lasted (until Sarah slept with Gordo’s best friend). This is where they remember that hot July when everyone climbed the old Royal Bank building and slept under the stars, drugged by a Tequila that had somehow miraculously made it’s way in some semi truck from Mexico to this unknown dot on the map.
In international terms, the only thing that makes Winnipeg remotely exist on a map, aside the fact that it is where Neil Young attended high school, is the nuclear power plant just south of the border. Outside of Winnipeg itself, that is the one thing that Winnipeggers hate about Winnipeg. That damned nuclear power plant.
It certainly isn’t Berlin, London or Sydney, but Winnipeg is boastful about the fact that it isn’t. True Winnipegers love their city’s obscurity and ironically, want to proclaim it to the world.
Manitoba is a province that can claim a similar epithet of obscurity. It’s obituary would read “Manitoba: the province everyone passed through to get somewhere else.”
When rural Manitoban children reach the age of eighteen, they typically either move into Winnipeg to study or they move into Winnipeg to get a job and figure out what they’re going to do with their lives. Regardless of why they move into Winnipeg, their main reason for moving is to “get out” of the town they are from. They think that the place they come from is inferior or can’t offer them what they are looking for out of life. And, depending on how one looks at it, they are partially right. The one thing they are ignorant of is that the same thing can happen after a few years of living in Winnipeg. The same thing can happen after a few years of living anywhere.
Helen Foster pulled her dark hair away from her neck and haphazardly tied it into a ponytail on the top of her head. She and Nick were sipping beer on the roof of 344 Home St, a two story house painted a god-awful orange and brown. Someone had had their way with it in the mid-seventies and Robyn, the current owner, being a poor, oppressed art student barely made the down payment for this monstrosity, let alone had extra cash to paint the exterior.
Nick pulled out a joint and lit up. Helen refused his offer.
“You know Helen, if you don’t watch out, you could become responsible and I won’t know how to be around you anymore.” Nick’s eyes glazed over and looked out at the sea of trees that stretched toward the parliament building downtown.
“You know Nick, you ought to try asking yourself if you had any dreams at one point in your life.” Helen also looked at the the view.
“Oh, reform me, please,” Nick picked at a loose shingle.
“When will the others be home?”
“When they get here.”
Helen remained silent, climbed down the lattice work and went inside to unpack. She told herself she had no time for the old, thin pretentious games of slothful philosophers. It was no longer attractive to her. Over consumption of a thing can be a stomach turner in the end. Some people get sick on spiced Rum and never want to drink it again whereas Helen had had her fill of needy, apathetic jerks who were paralyzed by their own high/low opinion of themselves. Still, it was a shame about Nick. He was obviously being lazy. Before she had left for the summer, he had been in a different space. One morning in April he had been lured to church by a one night stand who had woken up intent on nurturing repentance in him. Apparently he had found some sort of old tinge of guilt he had forgotten about and it had really motivated him to be a relatively considerate person for a few months.
Nick Peters had grown up a pastor’s son in Steinbach, Manitoba. Well on his way to thirty, Nick worked construction in the summer and served cute Julia Butterfly look-al-likes, fair trade soy lattes the rest of the year. He was known to show up at home around 11-am after a party the night before, smelling of woody sandalwood, burnt sage and indifference. He was a hit with the hippie girls. Especially the recovering Mennonite ones. He was perfect. He was a project. A man in need of freeing. Or reforming. Two concepts that can look rather similar when you attempt to enforce them.
Helen pulled her sandy clothes out of her suitcase while looking in the mirror. Her freckles always showed up after a few days in the sun. Mexico had been especially sunny. Now, with September half way gone, she could sense the fatalism about to set in. Her freckles would hide away within the next few weeks and winter would envelope the city like a cold, dark, blanket.
”Nick!” she called, grabbing her frisbee.
Ultimate Frisbee in Vimmy Ridge Park was a wonderful way to let off the tension, until it was too dark to see.
That night after Robyn and Eli got home, they made what Eli called “dinner fit for a sinner”, an arugula salad with homemade raspberry vinaigrette, barbecued chicken kabobs, roasted potatoes rubbed in rosemary and a black forest cake. They had never eaten like this as under-grads, but somehow the age of 25 has a way of inspiring culinary motivation.
After a few bottles of wine that Eli had especially bought for Helen’s return, they decided to walk to Uncle’s – the local drinking spot. The whole place brimmed with folks who knew Helen would be showing up. Drinks flowed and Plato was put to shame as philosophies were developed and promptly forgotten under the midnight stars of the patio.
“You met someone in New Mexico didn’t you?” Robyn asked the obvious, the next morning as everyone gathered in the kitchen. Helen was hugging her knees and breathing in the aroma of good coffee.
“Not only did I meet someone in New Mexico, but I knew he was coming. It was Thomas. The guy I met in Colorado. But I don’t know what will come of it.”
Robyn and Eli let out whoops… yelling what friends yell when their loved ones have just returned from a secret love affair. What? Why didn’t you tell us?
Nick snorted. He was wearing only his boxer briefs and glancing at his abs in the window.
Eli pressed for details. How steamy did it get. Was he a good guy. Did they drink wine on the desert plain.
Helen held her hands up and admitted to all of the above.
”I’ll bet you didn’t have sex though. Christians are the best dry-humpers in the world.” Nick left and went into the dining room to roll a joint.
Helen, Robyn and Eli laughed hard. But deep down, Helen was feeling Nick’s cruelty. She hadn’t slept with Thomas.
But she wasn’t sure about him after all.
Like most women in their twenties who think that some men aren’t like other men, Helen had thought Thomas wasn’t like other men. But she realized that he was the same calculated, fearful guy she had tried to date a million times before. He claimed to be adventurous … and to a certain degree, he was, but not to Helen’s degree. And it wouldn’t have mattered so much if they could have talked about it, but Helen seized up every time any burst of true communication came to her. She hated being expected to be the typical girl in the relationship. It didn’t fit her personality. She had a hard time remembering all the do’s and don’ts that girls are supposed to remember when luring in a man. She didn’t realize that Thomas was intimidated that she was the one who had the energy and imagination to play football or climb to high places, or take a stick to a snake that had slithered onto the picnic she had made for them. Turns out it was too much for him. Confidence without the chase is no match for dependence with the chase.
She had painted a big target on her heart for Thomas and he had not pierced it, precisely because she had. How confusing.
”I don’t even want him now.” Helen was actually being truthful and her roommates could tell.
”Well, he sounds primitive Helen, but you like that type. So, unfortunately, you need to fight fire with fire. You need to play the delicate game of letting him be the man.” Eli rubbed her back.
”Argh. I just can’t help it if I have passions. Its not like I’m trying to be obstinate for the sake of it. I like to run. I like to jump. I like to play. I like to punch. I am intelligent. I am brave. I am a MONSTER.” Helen started crying. It was so freaking frustrating to find a balance between her femininity and her boisterous, wondering nature.
Robyn was no help. Her answer was to try women on for size and Helen simply knew that was not her forte.
”They might be more accepting of your independence.” Robyn countered.
”Yeah, Robyn, one problem… they’re girls. I find King Kong more sexually attractive than Sofia Loren in her younger days. Its all so ridiculous. Besides, none of your girlfriends have exactly won the prize for being understanding. “
”Sofia Loren is no slouch now,” Eli observed. He and Robyn sighed with a far off look in their eyes.
Helen made more coffee. It was going to be a long winter.
I was a closet country fan as a kid. In the early 1990’s it wasn’t cool to be into Johnny Cash or Dolly Parton. They were coming out of the dark ages of the ‘80’s and if it hadn’t been for Dolly’s business savvy to act in films, she might not have kept herself in the public eye the way she did.
The ‘90s were my teenage years. I wore grunge clothes. A mini skirt with tights, army boots, a rock t-shirt and an over-sized plaid shirt with rolled up sleeves. I was a bit of a nerd too. I read constantly and knew things about the world that were very uncool to know. I was embarrassed to come from a place that did the boot scootin’ boogie and had a hard time trying to explain or distinguish the vast difference between Kris Kristofferson and Billy Rae Cyrus.
It was never my dream to go to Nashville. I knew I loved to sing and write. I think maybe my messiah complex was already quite well developed and I imagined that I was going to be the female version of Bono when I grew up.
These days it seems kids know they want to go to Nashville before they hit puberty. When I hit puberty, I was twelve and wanted to be a stowaway on a tall ship, or see wild animals in Africa, or go Narwhal hunting in the North. But I was composing already, and not because it was in the forefront of culture, but because I couldn’t help myself. Despite the fact that my three favourite records were Wilf Carter-There’s a Bridle Hangin’ on the Wall, John Denver- Poem and Prayers and Promises and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young- Déjà Vu, Nashville seemed like the cheesy place old people visited as tourists, like Arizona or Florida.
I didn’t make it to Music Row, Jack’s BBQ, The Bluebird, or The Ryman until I was in my early twenties. But after that, I kept coming back. And I kept going deeper.
My first time in Nashville was spent mostly at a big hotel downtown because I was showcasing at a music conference. I was a bit of a mess at the time, truth be told. I had just finished recording my first album and was waiting on a big record label to decide if I was a part of the family or not. Some of you may not know this but a lot of great records never see the light of day because the artist chooses to wait on the label’s timing. And a lot is a stake with this for the artist. It can actually postpone when you start making money, but certainly doesn’t postpone when you start spending it.
So there I was. Meeting a lot of heroes. Playing showcases. Taking it in. Not knowing a whole lot about anything!
I remember on that trip, leaving a pair of Frye boots by accident in my hotel room because I was hungover when I packed. In fact the truth of the story was that the last night of the conference, I was done all my shows (and never drank before or during a show) and I stayed up all night, bouncing from room to room with a friend from Manitoba. We played hard and drank hard and I even remember a world musician from Africa asking us to smoke some sort of ceremonial pipe with her. So I did. Looking back on it, I think I must have been able to tell the difference between that and all the rest of the drugs around, because I never did drugs. I can probably count on my two hands how many times I smoked pot which is saying something when you count the sheer amount of days I was on the road with other musicians!
We all have addictions though. I would love to be able to sit down with a circle of people and say “Hello. My name is Alana and I’m addicted to pride.” And have people who struggle with pride say back “Hello Alana.”
Earlier that weekend I met a shoe shiner at Union Station who wore a vest with a bunch of pins and buttons on it. Many of the buttons were about God and love. I sat down beside him and asked him where he went to church. He told me it was in East Nashville. I asked him if he would be willing to invite me to his church. He eyed me up and down and said, “Girl, I think you might wanna try one of them uptown churches. “
But I was persistent, so we made arrangements to meet out front of his church at 10am that Sunday.
It was the night before I had been up terribly late. Everyone else was sleeping in at the hotel and when I walked down the hallways, looking out the windows, I could feel how some folks had just nearly been there, after watching the sun rise together.
The church in East Nashville welcomed me with warm, wide, loving arms. I stood there like the little Canadian girl that I was and I sang my heart out and I let the tears flow. Looking back, I think I was crying more because its in these holy places where I can let out the love, loyalty and hope that I carry and there, mysteriously, it becomes a reciprocal, unending union, even with perfect strangers.
The reverend who spoke was a guest speaker from New York State, and he sang his entire sermon, sometimes with the congregation joining in a stanza or two that was recognizable. It was there that I heard the truest, most beautiful music of the whole weekend.
This is an excerpt from my book yet to be given a title. Please share this with your friends.
The Windjammer Association was celebrating its 75th Anniversary the week I was resident minstrel aboard the Mary Day. The husband and wife duo, Captain’s Barry King and Jen Martin have two beautiful children and as a family, they lead a very unorthodox existence. The kids have grown up barefoot aboard this schooner and have gotten to know many guests from around the world. Because school was still in as it was still early June, Captain Barry was our lone guide and the rest of the family stayed ashore.
To my pleasant surprise, two of the crewmates played music. Cara, the cook played the fiddle and Tom the deck hand played the banjo and had been in a number of bands out of Boston.
Captain Barry is also a fine musician. He is the kind of person who carries repertoire around – sea shanties and folk tunes. The other captains too, are respecters of music. The Victory Chimes, a schooner famous for having three masts, plays host to famous folk singers who enjoy the experience of sailing. Another schooner, the Stephen Taber, had hired a swing/rockabilly trio for that week and as a result, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to experience a high quality jam that I will never forget.
To celebrate their 75th anniversary, the fifteen captains decided to do something that isn’t done on every voyage. They performed what is called a Schooner Gam and I can promise you it is a performance! You couldn’t attempt something like this with no sailing experience, that is for certain.
A Schooner Gam is when a number of ships raft together side-by-side. It takes precision and communication, particularly with what vessel lines up when and who drops anchor where. Anchors don’t come cheap. The cost of dressing a ship comes at a high price. If two vessels were to drop anchor right next to each other, the odds of the lines twisting deep under water are high. And they would have no alternative but to cut the lines and each lose between $4000-$6000.
I believe it was day two or three when the association got together to celebrate on the water. Two days out on the water with the guests and the crew, collapses time frames and you soon get to know the characters that are coexisting in tight quarters with you for a week!
I watched the captain make his calls and the crew run to pull lines, make them fast and watched the other captains do the same thing with their treasured wooden beauties.
It was a fascinating feat to witness and I will forever be honoured that I was a participant in this event.
Once the ships were rafted together each one next to the other, we were allowed to climb from schooner to schooner and explore the unique traits and personalities of these traditional vessels propelled by wind and the human mind alone.
There were speeches and the swinging and cracking of a champagne bottle, to mark the commemoration aboard the Victory Chimes.
I bumped into my friends from Virginia who were thoroughly enjoying their great adventure aboard the Stephen Taber, where the swing trio was making their home that week.
Once the festivities were coming to a close, three of the vessels on the interior chose to stay together for the night. The others separated and pushed further apart by a mile or two. Captain Barry left me, the cook and the banjo-playing deckhand with a small rowboat and we stayed aboard the Stephen Taber so we could join in the music. We were given a curfew but were allowed to play to our heart’s content until then.
And did we play! The song swapping and the respect that we developed for each other within those few hours were a marvel for the other passengers to witness. Everyone was full of cheer and the music just got better and better. Imagine a tall ship, lit with lanterns, covered with tarps to block out the bit of rainy mist coming down, and a crowd of whisky-warmed folks listening to acoustic musicians getting to know each other, sometimes with three or four part harmony.
Before we knew it, it was time to head back. We lowered our instruments over the side and climbed down into the rowboat. It was dark, and way off in the distances around us the other ships were dimly lit with lanterns. The mist was cold but who were we to care? We were in a rowboat on the Atlantic Ocean with a guitar, a banjo, a fiddle and each other.
I looked at the moon and felt conscious of the creatures living their lives underneath us, and I admittedly experienced the feeling of “oneness” to which the mystics and the poets allude.
I now live with my partner Ian, in a tiny house, in the woods, by a lake.
We still have some work to do, but it is an inspiring place to be!
Back in April, we bought four concrete slabs and that was the beginning of a wonderful, challenging adventure full of hard work and growth. But it brought us to today. I am sitting here, writing, warmed by the wood stove, occasionally watching the yellow poplar leaves flutter or fall outside.
This website, that showcases my music will also become the forum for a tiny house blog on Saturdays once the cedar is on the gables and the artwork and instruments are hung. I can’t wait to show you pictures!
In the meantime, here is a rough, sneak excerpt from the chapter on Alabama in the memoir I’m writing about the solo pilgrimage I took last year from Newfoundland to New Orleans. I will be recording an album here in the tiny house to go along with this book.
Let me know what you think!!!
It was a sweltering July in 2011, and I could feel my pilgrimage turning closer to it’s end than it’s beginning. I was travelling around Alabama, randomly visiting little towns amidst other scheduled activities like co-writing and meeting up with the documentarian from Manitoba who was filming footage of me there. I went to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, the WC Handy Festival was on for two weeks, and the Civil Wars had sold out a theatre in Florence. My friend Charlie Peacock had produced their album that would later go on to win two Grammy’s.
I had made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t rent a hotel room until my last night in New Orleans, so if I wasn’t staying with people, I stayed in my car. It was so hot and humid during my time in Alabama, that even when it rained the air didn’t clear, it just got more dense. I went swimming everyday to cool off but it was at night, in my car, somewhere by a a river or parked near RV travelers in a Walmart parking lot, I would have to concentrate on not concentrating to try and sleep.
I would sit in cafes sipping iced coffee and no one knew I was essentially a vagabond on a quest to heal my wounds and discover great music along the way. I didn’t have the same look about me as a typical girl living out of her car. I smelled like chlorine, peppermint soap and Honeysuckle Toms Of Maine deodorant. Not your usual run of the mill, patchouli and ancient armpit hair musk. I wore nice clothes, lip gloss and shaved my legs. So I got to walk around with a secret like the Mona Lisa. I live out of my car and you don’t know it, I would think. I have a kettle, a coffee grinder, and a french press in my 1995 Passat Wagon. And I make classy mugs of coffee and drink them watching the sun rise in a sweater, on the hood of my car. And I’ve been living like this for over 3 months. You might look at my license plate that says MANITOBA and think, “she’s a lawng way from home”, but I’m not a long way from home, because I live in my car right now. How d’you like that?
But no one knew. If they knew, they might have been inclined to avoid me. Or worse, pity me.
In certain parts of Northern Alabama, you hear people on their cell phones talking music business. It is a juxtaposed thing compared to Nashville, because the ambiance and work ethic of the region is the opposite of Nashville. It might be one of the few places left in the world where you feel like you’re in a time warp and the essence of people’s attitudes are still so relaxed you’d swear they were wheeling and dealing vinyl spin deals to old-school radio stations from a rotary phone.
Fair trade coffee and wifi can’t take that away. It just adds to the surrealism. And I love it.
If you’ve never been to the South, you may have a general assumption about what it is like. But your imagination can’t compete with the real thing. The tastes. The smells. The leftover mansions standing awkwardly under the ghostly shadows of gone-by plantations. The hearts as big as the hair.
A few cliche word combinations come to mind when I think of Alabama. Tight jeans. High heels. Cigarette smoke. Deep-fried vegetables. Pride and politics.
But then you go deeper.
Layer after layer of social disconnect, planted deep in the heart of a strange and beautiful simplicity. Music heritage, playing host to a world of foreigners eager to immerse themselves in true, rich sounds. The Rolling Stones. Led Zeppelin. To name a few. Cross-over, depth and surface surrounded by a terrain of historical horror and beauty. A strange allegiance to the Union that manifests in an ironic underdog heritage that is carried in the very geography of the place.
Sure there are college kids wearing loafers, softly carrying their university degrees like their leather laptop satchels, but when it comes to music, the academy is no match for the sheer pride and passion carried into a night of genuine “getting down”. The roadhouses are as full on a Saturday night as the chavvy bars anywhere in the Midlands of England or what we might call “meat-market” dance clubs in any North American city. But the overall feel of an Alabama roadhouse is more like a local pub or legion. The gathering of a community. And more often than not, with great live music.
Outside of the dance floor itself, in their jeans, push-up bras, self-tanners and hoop earrings, girls bustle around the mirror in the women’s washroom. It truly is the place to experience the essence of southern female culture. Mascara and perfume. The combination of competition and admiration. The hope that how you think you look will translate onto the dance floor, or onto the bar stool, for the handsome devil you came here with.
The conversations in the washroom begin with ecstatic greetings “hey there girl! Haven’t seen you since Cindy’s wedding!!! How are you? You’re looking gorgeous girl!” and slowly evolve into the sweet man they’re currently with and the ex who’s anything but sweet. “I swear the sunbitch is crazy. He’s on his fifth wife and I think he’s sexually molestin’ her daughter or somethin’ That little girl’s smokin’ pot now and that just ain’t a good sign. You know, he’s always preying on smart women and somehow we fall for it. How is that? But you know what? Somethin’ I’ve realized through this whole thing is that God’s just so much bigger than all that. Anyway, what am I givin’ him all the airtime for? That ex o’mine don’t compare at all to the sweet fella I’m with now! How ’bout you girl?”
Divorce flows steady like the Tallapoosa, and you can see, that the women particularly, seem to walk around with pieces of themselves left behind, in half-built ghost towns. The men do too. But they cover their wounds up as best they can with Wranglers and sex. Yes, even the Born-Agains. Imagine that.
In 2011, a new policy had been settled state-wide. The punishment for aiding an illegal alien had gotten scary. Legally, if you were caught giving an apple to an illegal immigrant who was hungry, or shelter, or heavens to Betsy, a job no one else wants, you’d be incarcerated and the penalty had now been set too high for most average people to take the risk.
I happened to meet a few folk who weren’t average, during my travels further south into Alabama. Folk who harboured, fed and clothed those homeless, jobless people who used to be the backbone of the Alabama vegetable industry. I would call these abetters “imperfect, faith-filled, subversives”. I met people who had been working the Alabama vegetable fields for years, who had come up out of the ocean or followed the working line through Texas. The irony of the whole mess was that as I drove through the state, I passed field after field, full of vegetables, untouched, left there to rot. The farmers couldn’t afford to hire a real American for the job and they didn’t have enough personal manpower to harvest it themselves, so the food that could have at least fed the hungry people who used to work those fields, went rotten instead.
Just in case any of you want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, the only aiders and abetters to the hungry that I met were church-going folk, albeit “liberal”. They came from a proud lineage of people who had done things like pack their car full of kids, as an informal school bus so that black children (particularly girls) could have safe transportation to schools. This was at a time when doing such a thing was life-threatening.
I met one old white woman who was very blunt and very religious. She told me in disgust, “I thought all this was going to be over by the time I got to be this age. I thought by now, people would just be allowed to be people.” She told me she had stood up in her church the week before, angry with the moderate, quietness of her congregation who’d had almost no response to the new law, and said: “I never thought I’d live to see the day, when a Mexican became the new Nigger!” And she walked out, slowly, with her rickety old bones creaking loudly in the silence (and hopefully shame) of her “brothers and sisters in Christ”.
America is one of the most intriguing political landscapes. At first glance, the fireworks and the mega billboards, mega churches and mega consumption is all you see. Then you take a road trip into the heart of it. You dig deeper. You eat barbeque with folks in a rundown tin shack, and you meet characters who surprise you with their hospitality, their bigheartedness or even a political view that isn’t either/or. And just when you thought you had it all worked out, someone you’d never expect, confuses you with an act of kindness.
I know some of the best songwriters in the state of Alabama. They are my friends, and they’ve generously connected me to the heart of the place every time I’ve visited.
I’ve also seen some of the dumbest southern boys sing about Jesus with such pride, that if you could glimpse the thought-bubble above their heads, I swear all you’d see is the American flag flying.
Jesus is a part of the culture. More often than not, and largely without conscious intention, the bobble-headed Arian one. The one who’s on the mainline so you can tell him what you want. The Santa-Christ who won’t delay your gratification.
On the other hand, in the South, a different kind of Jesus shows up in rehab, when a foolhardy man is at his lowest. That Jesus might even appear to have brown skin in the sweats and hallucinations of withdrawal.
Its an interesting Mystery.
I like to stand in paradox. It is uncomfortable and sometimes mortifying, but I believe that is where Truth spends most of her time. She licks her coat till it glistens, in between those two rights (or two wrongs). Lately, I’ve been getting so close, sometimes I can feel her rough tongue lick the salt off my brow.
Alabama. A slow-as-molasses, beautiful, musical culture full of generosity, hospitality and authenticity. Just like with people, the most interesting places are a mixed bag of imperfection and glory. Sometimes I feel homesick for this incredible state.
As you may already know, I’ve been a touring musician for most of my adult life and a performer for my whole life. I was courted by Warner and Sony (before it merged with BMG) back in the early 2000′s and then eventually signed to Rounder Records. This was all during a time when the industry had very little prophetic awareness about the shifting sands of the business of music (and yes, music is a business… if you have inventory, you have a business). Just when I had convinced the producer of Coldplay’s first three records to fly to Canada and make a record with me, I got the news that my project wouldn’t be funded by my label, as I had thought it would be. Its not to say anything bad about the label because frankly, I would have made the same decision. A lot of more solidified female roots acts were being dropped from the major labels at the time and heading straight to roots labels. Working with these artists meant a guaranteed prediction of sales and no pesky development time or costs. The industry was absolutely having to make sparse, fiscally responsible (not necessarily forward-thinking) decisions.
I went ahead and made my record with Ken Nelson anyway. It cost me my arm and my leg… not because Ken was expensive (he was a bloody bargain for that kind of genius!) but because I went all out on it. It is a beautiful product that to this day I don’t regret having made. What I learned about sound engineering alone was worth it, let alone learning how to executive produce a large project and experience that kind of world-class artistic fulfillment.
There were many variables that brought me to the decision to go off the road for awhile. Behind the scenes, the ducks didn’t line up as had hoped for Lions and Werewolves and I was also taking a hit in my personal life. The project came out on EMI through a little label called Blue Lily Records and recently, I have had the rights to it sent back to me. EMI was fantastic to work with and I am still friends with all of them.
Overall, I’ve lived a lifetime, already having toured with my heroes and having put on hundreds of thousands of miles as a touring musician! I’ve been on the rooftops of Los Angeles hotels and I’ve slept in my car on the side of a motorway in England covered in my own t-shirt merchandise to keep me warm. I’ve been sponsored by Volkswagen, Trek, Gibson, Sennheiser and Bono and Ali Hewson’s couture clothing company Edun. I’ve also slept slumped over my guitar, the equivalent of a month of nights at airports, waiting for a connecting flight. I’ve had a private show, performed just for me by four of the top Stomp dancers outside a pub in Brighton. I’ve hiked amongst wild Welsh ponies in Snowdonia after headlining a show. I’ve played in front of massive crowds. I’ve seen the beautiful side of music and the ugly side, and sometimes at the same time!
It wasn’t glamourous. Even the glamourous parts weren’t glamourous! But I am happy to have been there.
In my time of constant touring, I had about a hundred rules for myself around food and drink. I only drank beer when in Ireland for instance (and luckily toured there enough times to sink a few pints!) I exercised like the medieval devil was after me. And food was a restricted experience. I still thought I looked overweight in my music videos. I put so much pressure on myself about how I looked, about how successful I would be, and no one, but a precious few, ever knew.
In 2010, during my “down time” when I was struggling with personal loss and great confusion about how driven I had been as an artist, I quit writing songs. I could hardly pick up my guitar unless it was just for fun. Then in August of 2010, I exploded with songwriting again and wrote my record Hymns from the Desert.
In 2011, I drove from Newfoundland to New Orleans over the span of 5 months in search of back road music. And of course, with me being me, it couldn’t just be a small project… my ultimate goal was that I wanted to bolster small to medium sized music venues by creating a resource for music-loving travelers. I created a pretty vast data base of great live music finds and then ran out of steam. I needed a team of people to finish that part of the project off.
On a personal level, it was the trip I needed to take to process my twenties! I fell in love with music again, only this time with what one of my heroes, Richard Rohr, calls a “second naivete”; meaning: you can never go back to the wide-eyed ways of childhood, but you can approach something with hope and vulnerability even though it has hurt you before.
On that trip, for personal reasons, I decided to move to Edmonton, Alberta where I live currently and am very happy.
I am now the veteran songwriting instructor for the School of Song and I am working on a recording that will be encased in a memoir about my music pilgrimage. This is due in October 2012!
I don’t know if you’ve followed my career or are just beginning to, but don’t expect to see me at a local bar when I am promoting this upcoming project. I plan to visit festivals and do house concerts. If you want to schedule me to do a house concert, I would love to chat! I did a Home Routes tour in April and was converted over to the house concert concept (I was a reluctant believer at first).
This is my story as I tell it today. Tomorrow it might have different memories. Like I said, I’ve lived a lifetime already. Does that mean I have RRSP’s? No. But it does mean I’ve learned that taking a risk doesn’t kill you!
Here’s to the future! I am exploding with creativity… the kind that is informed by experience. My favourite! Now I can honestly say… I am who I am! When an artist can get to that point, they have learned how to turn their wounds into balm and their scars into great beauty.