5/23/13 – 5/24/13
In which the dirty birds celebrate birthdays with the Dude, tell tall tales about ghost pirates, and commune with mountains near and far.
Let me start this entry with a small note of apology. I realize it has been, what, three and a half months since the last tour blog? Oof. The explanation is that I’ve been working feverishly on a new novel. I finished the first draft about a month ago in New Orleans, sitting in one of my favorite bars in the Quarter. Smoking cigarettes, looking out the window watching the tourists and the Quarterfolk passing by. And so every time I thought to sit down to write, understandably I sat down to novel work, including most recently trying to edit the whole thing. That being said, for some reason right now I feel inspired to recount a few small happenings in Dirty Bird land from way back in May. This edition will by no means be a comprehensive step by step retelling of our recent adventures. Instead, I’ll recount one amazing weekend we spent in rural Pennsylvania, drawn from a collection of notes taken shortly after we left – I didn’t want to forget the magic of those days.
The Snail Pie Lounge is a noncommercial, DIY venue run by some dear friends. I say venue, but in truth it is just a barn built by Steve, the owner and patriarch of the family. They were hosting us on both Arleigh’s birthday (May 23rd) and my own (May 24th), playing shows each night. Steve and Hannah and Diane and Derrick and little Jonah and Cora at the Snail Pie farmstead. Man. What a time. It was life changing, seeing how they live out there; working hard, living basically off the grid with all that land, Jonah (Hannah and Derrick’s son, Steve’s grandson) able to just run free over the hills and through the woods. How Hannah nurses Cora, her infant daughter, deep peace on their faces. Derrick, rising early each day, driving three hours round trip to work his job teaching 4th graders somewhere east of Baltimore. They understand hard work, but also understand the beauty of family and of good land and of just sitting and conversing.
I woke early each day to go sit with the family and talk. Drinking coffee, eventually beers. Talking and laughing and just being human.
If and when I have a son, I hope he is like little Jonah. Alive with adventure and wonderment. Exploring the hills and woods. At one point he found a garden snake that was trying to eat a frog, its jaws distended with the effort. He came and got me and we walked hand in hand so he could show me the snake. He was afraid and said, “I need you to hold me so the snake doesn’t bite me.” And I said, “We are already holding hands.” “No, I need you to pick me up!” and so I did and he rode on my shoulders until we were close. He made me stop and was afraid for a second to go forward. Sure enough, there it was in the grass half hidden. Trying to eat this huge goddamn frog or toad or something. Flies buzzing around. The snake was inching the frog slowly down its throat, one shudder of the body at a time. And everyone came over to see what Jonah had found. He was proud of his discovery. Smiling, still riding my shoulders.
We sat in their hot tub before the show on the 24th, laughing and making up Pirate stories with Jonah. His first creation was Captain Seabeard, with the beard so full of sea salt that it “dongs like iron” when struck. The first mate, Ulysses S. Grant. The head of the ghost army was named Ghost Captain Ghostcaptain and was in charge of ten armadas of ghost pirate ships. Seabeard was overcome by the ghost armada and forced to join them, so becoming Ghost Captain Seabeard, with clean-shaven Ulysses rising to the rank of Captain Nobeard. And the ending of the fateful tale: The ghost armada challenged Captain Nobeard to a race to determine the ultimate victor. Of course the ghosts won. “You sure you want the ghosts to win?” Brian asked Jonah. “Mmmm. Yes!” he said, gleaming. Every time Jonah would tell a scary, or tense section, he would start zooming in real slow on Brian until eventually their noses would be touching, whispering “And then… guess what?” Eyes wide. “And then guess what?!”
Sitting in the hot tub, remembering we were about to go play a show. Walking to the shower in bathtowel, right past all the people waiting for the show and for the bathroom. Not batting an eye, Brian says to me, “Well, they’re sure getting their money’s worth tonight.”
Steve delivered birthday cakes to us on both nights dressed in full Dude regalia. Did I mention he is a semiprofessional Big Lebowski impersonator? The epitome of all things Dude. “I hate the fuckin’ Eagles!… But I love the Dirty Birds!” he bellowed from stage, smiling through the bright lamps, wearing dark sunglasses. And then when whomever had reserved seats in the front row didn’t show, Diane and Steve gladly took the seats and sang along, dancing in their seats.
Incredibly, my wristwatch, which seems to be running perfectly now more than two months later, lost two and half hours while sitting on the stage for those few days. I told Steve as we were leaving and his only response was, “Well, you know they say time stops out here.”
We were only out there for a little less than 2 days, but still it was strange trying to readjust to the outside world upon leaving. Magic.
I wrote this sitting in a coffee shop somewhere in Denver. The previous few days we spent traveling through high country, skirting cliff edges and gazing in wonder upon distant peaks. Colorado is a land of amazement. Late afternoon thunder showers. Cool and with the scent of the mountains. Damp dust and pine trees and thin air. As if you can smell the heavens stretching away just beyond that last layer of atmosphere. There is an amazing clarity of mind that happens from time to time in the mountains.
We just got off the road after more than a six weeks touring. The band is kicking into levels never before known. More than 98,000 miles driven in the last 15 months.
I’ll sign off here. We love you all. Thanks for taking this journey with us.