Way back in the very long time ago, I used to perform at house concerts. We didn’t call them that back then, though. They didn’t have a name, actually, they were just private gigs. Fairly easy to book, no real planning, and they always guaranteed some free food, wine, grass, and usually a place to sleep for the night. Basic sing-for-your-supper affairs where I could pass the hat to cover travel expenses. The best part was that I sang for a lot of great people in an intimate setting, kind of like playing for friends I’d only just met. I didn’t have to drag my gear around and set up; all I did was plop myself in the most visible spot of the room, tune up, and go for it while someone kept my glass magically full. These days things are a bit different.
While planning my October 9th house concert (which I’ve dubbed SK Waller, A Retrospective), I’ve done a great deal of research on the subject and it seems that the old anything goes maxim no longer holds true. There are set guidelines that have been well-tested through the years so I’m taking heed. I can’t imbibe in anything while playing anymore, anyway. The best advice I’ve received is in Shannon Curtis’ eBook, No Booker, No Bouncer, No Bartender: How I Made $25K On A 2-Month House Concert Tour (And How You Can Too). A compact, concise, no-fluff, 58-page wonder, this handbook is invaluable.
My aspirations aren’t as lofty as the title promises, though. For one thing, I can’t set out on a two-month tour (we have only one car), and for another, I don’t have a CD to sell. I’m hoping to perform in the Oklahoma City-Tulsa-Stillwater Triangle and make enough to make said CD and buy some new gear: an amp, a mic and stand, and a small mixer.
A lot of the stuff Shannon lays out is stuff I did when I was younger and acting as my own agent and flying by the seat of my bell bottom Levis. I’m looking forward to getting back into that—the scene, that is. I still wear the Levis. Meanwhile, I have six months to get my repertoire in shape. Maybe I’ll even be able to somehow make that CD. I’m a firm believer in the idea that thoughts are things and that life responds rather than happens to us. Yeah. I can make this work.
So if any of you who live in the area would like to schedule a concert in your home later this year or next year, let me know via the email form on the Contact page and I’ll be happy to send you the particulars. There is no cost to you, just a night of music shared by you and your friends. How’s that for a sneaky pitch?
Long before the hash tag, long before the meme, and long before I was old enough to have much to look back on, I wondered what I might say if I could either talk to, or write a letter to my younger self. Oddly—or maybe not so oddly—my message has moved away from telling myself those things young people want so badly to believe about themselves—that I’m special or limitless or a magical soul. These days, my message is about seizing opportunities, and not blowing them just as they begin to come to fruition.
The self-destructive personality is cursed by past battles waged upon it by childhood abuse and teenage traumas.
In late September I will turn 64. Ah, that magical age immortalized by Paul McCartney!
When I get older, losing my hair,
Many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a valentine,
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I’d been out till quarter to three,
Would you lock the door?
Will you still need me?
Will you still feed me when I’m 64?
It seemed so far away back in 1967. We had our whole lives ahead of us; many of us weren’t even out of our parents’ house. It was easy to giggle and find the age of 64 so endearing. I mean, Paul made it seem so damned cute, something to really look forward to. I don’t know about you, but when I was 16 and tried to peer 48 years into my future, I saw an entirely different person, someone whom I couldn’t recognize as myself. Certainly, when we get old we must become someone else. How little I knew. I didn’t know that the person we are inside stops aging at a certain point regardless of what the body’s up to. When I’m feeling good, I’m still about 30. It’s only when I look into a mirror, or absently catch my reflection in a storefront window that I gasp. Who is that old woman? Is that my mother? Worse, is that my grandmother?
It’s not that I mind aging; it’s actually great in a lot of ways. Where I once was obsessed with people’s opinions of me, I no longer give a rat’s ass. Did I burn you in the past? Get over it! Life’s too short to carry that crap sack around. Do you think I’m a failure because all of my dreams didn’t come true? Screw you! You don’t know me and all I’ve surmounted in this life. You don’t like my Crocs? Bite me! I don’t remember asking your opinion in the first place.
So what would I tell my younger self? Just this:
“Don’t take your youth, energy and passion for granted.
Create opportunities and then tackle them to the ground.
Forgive your friends, but don’t suffer fools.
Don’t rush into the job/marriage/kids trap until you’ve traveled a bit,
seen some of this planet,
and have met a lot—a lot—of romantic candidates.
Always, always trust your instincts,
follow your heart,
and run like hell from people who try to
tell you this inner GPS isn’t to be trusted.
Meantime, gobble life.
Savor every bite and let the juice run down your chin.”
I actually followed most of this advice and I’ll never regret it. I should have paid more attention to the opportunities bit, but there’s always next time.
One of the things few people know about me is that since 1979 I’ve been a huge fan of poet Patti Smith. When I discovered her, I had no idea who she was or what she was about. I’d just moved back to the US from a three-month musical stint in England and my attention was on getting a record deal in the ever-shrinking world of what was then called, more than a little deprecatingly, MOR, or Middle Of the Road. Although I’d been introduced to Punk in England, I wasn’t at all fond of it and, when I came home I was met with the less confrontational, more palatable New Wave. Apart from Bob Dylan, Bette Midler, and Billy Joel, I knew nothing about what was going on musically in New York. Because my then managers were steering me into what they considered to be the more financially lucrative L.A. waters, Patti Smith the musician flew totally beneath my musical radar.
During one of my many afternoon-long safaris through Waldenbooks at our local mall, I came across a copy of Smith’s book, Babel. It was the cover that grabbed my attention, of course. I’d always been drawn to androgyny in women and Smith possessed that allure in spades. As I sat crosslegged on the floor in the poetry aisle, I read as much of the book as I could, then realized I had to buy it so that it could be at hand at all times. Through the following years, despite the fact that I bought her other books, my copy of Babel became annotated, tattered and dogeared, and eventually the cover came loose. I taped it back on, but it kept falling off. By the time it got lost in The Big Dump of 2001, it was more cello tape than cover.
The odd thing is, I never really became a huge fan of her music, although I certainly like it. My admiration has always been for her writing, her photography, and her mind. Who she is as a person was always the main thing, the way she lives her life as art, her way of viewing the world, and her circle of friends and colleagues. But as we both got older (she is in fact five years older than me), I saw a kindred spirit: a woman raising two children, a young widow, an artist forced by death, loss, grief and responsibility into a long creative dry spell, and a woman who struggled to pull herself out of that drought while continuing to confound those who would be stupid and narrow enough to hang a label on her.
On the surface no one would ever suspect that we have so much in common, or that I can relate to her in so many ways. While in her early peak years she was tall, thin and menacing in an oddly androgynous “bad boy” way. I on the other hand was short, red-haired, and pixie-like, about as menacing as Puck or Peter Pan: tomboyish, but not gender-bending by any stretch of the imagination. But I recognized her as a kind of alter-ego, the kind of image I would have liked to have had. Best of all, she has evolved in a way that I ardently admire as she continues to inspire. She digs getting older. She’s there for her family and friends. She is the embodiment of what it means to be an artist. She has come through exceedingly difficult times and she is happy to communicate all of it to us in an unflinchingly honest, sometimes almost brutal way.
“As far as I’m concerned, being any gender is a drag…
The issue of gender was never my biggest concern;
my biggest concern was doing good work.
When the feminist movement really got going,
I wasn’t an active part of it because I was more
concerned with my own mental pursuits.”
Throughout my life, most of my role models have been male, not by virtue of their gender, but because of their insistence on living life on their own terms. For this same reason, Patti Smith is one of my few female role models. She’s a hands-on mentor who inspires me viscerally. As she evolves and ages, her warmth, understanding and compassion deepen, and she continues to inspire me not only to carry on writing both books and music, but to claim my own life as my canvas, my camera, my manuscript.
On October 6th of this year Patti will be releasing her new book, M Train, a sequel to her 2010 memoir Just Kids, which I gobbled up in one sitting. This sequel promises to reveal more about the years she kicked around the streets of New York City, a time of her life that I find particularly fascinating.
“M Train is a journey through eighteen ‘stations.’ It begins in the tiny Greenwich Village café where Smith goes every morning for black coffee, ruminates on the world as it is and the world as it was, and writes in her notebook. We then travel, through prose that shifts fluidly between dreams and reality, past and present, across a landscape of creative aspirations and inspirations: from Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul in Mexico, to a meeting of an Arctic explorer’s society in Berlin; from the ramshackle seaside bungalow in New York’s Far Rockaway that Smith buys just before Hurricane Sandy hits, to the graves of Genet, Plath, Rimbaud, and Mishima. Woven throughout are reflections on the writer’s craft and on artistic creation, alongside signature memories including her life in Michigan with her husband, guitarist Fred Sonic Smith, whose untimely death was an irremediable loss. For it is loss, as well as the consolation we might salvage from it, that lies at the heart of this exquisitely told memoir, one augmented by stunning black-and-white Polaroids taken by Smith herself.” – (Book blurb)
So much has changed since I last considered myself a professional musician. These days, there are digital tuners, spring loaded capos, butterfly finger picks, computer printed lyric sheets, and who knows what else. I’m used to tuning my guitars by ear, of never having a capo that’s adequate for a 12-string, trashed fingernails (or none!), and hand-scribbled lyrics. Mind you, these new tools are improvements as far as I’m concerned. For instance, how many times have I struggled to tune my guitars in noisy bars and coffeehouses? Fortunately, my Luna Trinity has an onboard tuner, unlike my Briarwood 6-string, for which I have one of those tuners that clip onto the headstock. What I’m most excited about, right now, anyway, is the new Butterfly Finger Picks. I’m ordering some tomorrow. No more ragged fingernails, and they look cool, too. Almost like Elven rings. I’ll be reviewing them later, after I’ve tried them out.
These babies come in three finishes: gold, silver, and copper, depending on the sound you want. I’m going for the copper as it will lend a softer, mellower tone to the robust 12-string.
In other music-related news, I recently got back in touch with Andrew Austin, who used to perform with me as my backup guitarist back in the early 1980s. He was a lot more than just a guitarist, though, he was my friend and we enjoyed many happy times together. Andrew went on to become a top notch animator with Disney and Warner Brothers, contributing to many of their films. He now has his own business, Fowler Amusement, that produces animation, storyboarding, video games, and music videos. So glad to have him back in my life! Hopefully, he’ll be coming to Oklahoma this year on a video shoot for a Country artist. We’ll see! I’d so enjoy jamming with him again over bottles of wine.
We’re in the midst of our storm season here; lots of rain, tornado watches, thunder storms… Meanwhile, I listen to Dan Fogelberg and Gordon Lightfoot, and try to remember long-lost lyrics. I sure wish they had a tool for that.