I have a vision for the movie of my life. I have shared it with many. It is a short, perhaps the length of one song, or maybe the length of that song played two or three times. The extended live jam band version. That song is “Seven Year Ache” by Rosanne Cash. I am sitting in a booth at the Sunrise on Harrison Avenue in Rockford, Illinois, and “Seven Year Ache” is playing. People enter. They sit at my table, we share a story, a cup of coffee, a smile. Sometimes there are many people at this table, sometimes just two or three, sometimes I am alone. They all eventually rise and leave. Some return. We are together. We part. I am occupying a space, and people enter, people leave. This is my movie.
On Friday morning, I woke up at 3:30 am despite going to bed at midnight after a late night at the race shop. I grabbed my backpack, threw in some clothes, a toothbrush, my hardcover copy of Bodies of Water, my Blackberry charger, an autographed photo of Sammy Swindell, and The Four Agreements and then I walked out of my house. At 4:45 am, I was walking across the Fox River to board a Metra train, humming soft sounds to myself, songs about trains.
At 6:30 am, I was listening to the deafening echo of my cowboy boot heels as I entered the Great Hall. Stepping off of one train and onto another.
At 11 am, I left the Wolverine in Battle Creek, Michigan, where I was greeted by BLC and Amy.
First stop: Golden Harvest. A restaurant where people routinely stand around waiting for an hour or more to get a table, lined up out the door, milling on the sidewalk. I was lucky, and the time of day worked in our favor, and the wait was mere minutes. Minutes spent in front of this sign:
Marc met us there. The food was excellent. Adjectives for Amy: meaty (though my meal was vegetarian), indulgent, comforting.
From there, BLC and Amy took me back to their house, where I napped until it was time to pick up Janet and head to the Ann Arbor Folk Festival. For months, I’ve been telling everyone that this trip was to see a Rosanne Cash concert, which is true in a limited sense. There were a lot of important names in folk music on the bill, and Rosanne headlined Saturday night.
Patty Larkin was the MC of the weekend. Between each performance, she’d come out and play a song of her own, or tell a story, or a little bit of both, and then she’d introduce the next act. At least twice, she said “I am not just a fan of __‘s music, I also respect who he is, as a person on this planet.” The “person on this planet” line stuck in my head, and would be a thread that ran through the whole weekend. As in, “Our waiter is not only smokin’ hot, but I respect him as a person on this planet.”
Word definitions I have looked up recently, for inspiration and research purposes (this will be important, there may be a test later):
- Pendulous: hanging as if from a support
- Whilst: While, at the same time. While and whilst can nowadays legitimately be used in the contrastive sense of although or whereas, provided that it is not ambiguous
- Rejuvenate: regenerate: return to life; get or give new life or energy
- Utilize: make work or employ for a particular purpose or for its inherent or natural purpose
When I searched for Jer Coons on Facebook, I landed on Jerry Coons, Jr.’s page. Thanks, Facebook, for being the Large Hadron Collider of all of my worlds.
Jay and Ben opened with a song called “California Zephyr”, 14 hours after I stood in Union thumbing through a pamphlet of the Zephyr’s route. Songs about trains, man. Everywhere. Their collaboration was inspired by Big Sur, so there were thoughts of Kerouac and my brother threaded around every song. If I could have changed one thing about the weekend, I would have brought Wags with me.
I enjoyed everything I heard this night, some more than others (I’m looking at you and your Michael Jackson cover, Jer). But it was all great. Samuel Beam (Iron & Wine) will be a new favorite, and not just because he looks like Duke with the full beard.
Saturday morning began with a keg of coffee. Amy picked up one of those 10-cup containers and she and I polished it off on our own. An impressive, jittery accomplishment. High on caffeine and folk music, we collected Janet and Marc and hit the road for Ann Arbor again, where we had a very early dinner at Zingerman’s Roadhouse. I had the beef brisket, greens, and stone ground grits with cheese. Adjectives for Amy: zesty, smoky, juxtaposed grainy creaminess.
Then we stopped at the Zingerman’s, where I bought rugelach, brownies, a ginger cookie, and eyed a $750 bottle of vinegar to try to determine why it exists. I sampled Janet’s ginger ale, which had such a powerful bite it was like chewing on actual ginger. Want. Love. Wow.
Back to Hill, where we wedged ourselves into our seats for another few hours of folk. Doc Watson was originally scheduled to co-headline, but couldn’t make it to Ann Arbor due to weather complications wherever he was at. A disappointment for sure, but the lineup was still strong: Hoots and Hellmouth again, Enter the Haggis, Hot Club of Cowtown, Raul Malo, Richie Havens, Rosanne Cash.
I was 15 years old when Rosanne Cash’s 10 Song Demo came out. It is, always has been, and always will be The Music. That one album that changed everything. I was 17 years old when I went to Europe for a summer and 10 Song Demo was the only music that made the trip with me. “The Summer I Read Collette” alone, by itself, made me a better person. That was the summer I let it all go, to fill up my body with my heart and my soul.
Raul Malo was just as amazing as I’ve always believed he’d be live. I am a sucker for a powerful male singing voice, and they just don’t exist in Top 40 country music anymore. John Berry and The Mavericks (Raul’s former band) were the last mainstream country acts with a very strong male voice. I abandoned country radio ’round ’bout the same time it abandoned The Mavericks.
Richie Havens was an experience. To hear “Freedom” live gave me the same fuzzy feeling I got the last time I watched Steve and Sammy battle it out on a half mile. To be living in a moment that you know you will reference for the rest of your life, trying extra hard to remember every little detail, it is so meta.
Whilst I was seated in the balcony, as Richie walked off the stage, my phone received a text message from Twitter. You see, I have followed @rosannecash for quite awhile, but the account has only been operated by Rosanne herself for a couple of weeks. Before that, it was her record company PR staff or something. It is now her, really her, a real person on the planet, and we were in the same building. I am not exaggerating when I say that my heart was racing. She and I both listened to Richie Havens sing “Freedom” just then. We were sharing that, we had that thing in common. And she would be walking onto the stage momentarily.
Rosanne took the stage with her husband, John Leventhal, just the pair of them and their guitars. They opened with several songs from The List, the album she recently released, songs from a list her father gave her of essential country music.
Things I realized this weekend:
- I wear long sweaters when I am in this specific phase of my life. Long, coat-like sweaters, often over the top of other sweaters.
- I struggle to serve in the role of counselor to those who have recently counseled me.
- It only takes $31 and 4ish hours to put myself into the company of two people who make me feel more . . . myself . . . than anything else . . . people who provide so much . . . support. I could hang from them, pendulously . . . ellipsis . . .
- Dreams are not my home.
“Dreams Are Not My Home” was one of the songs I wasn’t expecting from Rosanne when I was fantasizing about what this show’s playlist would include, but I’m so glad I was wrong. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t one of my favorites from the Black Cadillac album, until I heard it live. I’ve now played it about 42 times, and it will be a forever-favorite.
Rosanne started telling a story of her daughter’s request for her own list, and how perhaps someday in a couple of generations, a song will appear on one of those lists, and I curled up a little tighter into myself in that chair, my heart pounded, my eyes misted over. “Seven Year Ache”.
Who does your past belong to today? Why would I describe this song as the soundtrack to my life? What’s the story? There really isn’t one. It’s just always been there. From my very first memories of music, the first words I recall singing, the first song I play when I pick up my own guitar. It has been playing on my internal mp3 player throughout the highest and lowest points of my nearly 29 years as a person on this planet.
After “Seven Year Ache”, Rosanne was joined onstage by the rest of the performers from earlier in the night, all holding their instruments. They all appeared a little tentative, I’m sure this wasn’t rehearsed. Janet and I looked at each other and I whispered “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” and she raised her eyebrows. A few seconds later, a guitar struck the first chord, and Janet whispered back “500 Miles”. Well of course, I should have known that. It’s on The List.
Of all of the musicians, I was most impressed with the fiddle player from Enter the Haggis, who jumped right into it while the rest seemed hesitant. “500 Miles” has been stuck in my head since then. Last night, I worked on my own arrangement of it, realizing that every version I’ve ever heard has different lyrics, and were I to string together all of my favorite verses, I could easily have a 500 minute version of it.
As we exited the auditorium, we were talking about all of the musicians that Janet is friends with on Facebook, and I bemoaned the fact that even though Rosanne is a real person on Twitter now, I remained invisible to her.
I sent one more message @ her, a note of thanks.
In the car, sitting next to Janet, still laughing about how poorly I handle lack of attention (this is no surprise to any of you, I imagine), Janet began to sing “Turn down the lights . . .”
At this point, I even said that it was okay that Rosanne didn’t acknowledge me, I wouldn’t have either. I’m a pretty sad case. Look at me, Twitterverse. VALIDATE ME.
But then the song Janet was singing about my Twitter woes changed, and I just couldn’t resist one more. Laughing, I thumbed it out as Janet sang.
I am hopeless and awkward and desperate for love.
And I got it.
Yep. You’re reading that right. Rosanne Cash not only acknowledged my existence, she told me to take a breath. When the text message containing this tweet arrived, I girl-screamed in the car. Quite loudly. And then I laughed all the way from Ann Arbor to East Lansing.
Take a breath.
On Sunday morning, we dined at Soup to Nutz Bistro, where I met BLC and Amy’s friend Carrie, who regaled us with tales from curling class. I had the Eggs Enchiladas, which I’m dying to attempt to recreate at home. Adjectives for Amy: tasty, filling, invigorating, texturally captivating.
I spent the rest of the day with Marc, touring the MSU campus and his local haunts before meeting his roommates and feasting on Marc-made mac and cheese with garlic breadcrumbs. If Amy had been there, I’d supply adjectives. Then it was back to BLC and Amy’s place, for a late night of writing and threatening to PhotoShop a picture of their dog Hobart wearing lederhosen and a wrestling singlet in lieu of the photos I should have been taking while I was on this trip. There were a lot of new strange phrases and inside jokes coined this weekend, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by the title of this post.
On Monday morning, I boarded the Blue Water and returned to Chicago. My train was over an hour late on a four hour trip. In a text message while I was stopped on the tracks, not moving at all, barely out of East Lansing, BLC said to me “Well, now you know why there are so many songs about trains.”
Five seconds of my movie happened this weekend. In those seconds, BLC, Amy, Marc, Janet and Rosanne Cash sat at my table, on this planet.
I refilled my cup of coffee.