Tuesday, August 30, 2005

avril at the man center

last night, avril played in town at the summer shed venue (it used to be called Great Woods but emily named it The Man Center since it is owned, booked and run by The Man) and i was giddy as a school girl. i got there during the second opener (gavin degraw, wins Most Wholesome Boy Ever award), found my seat, released my judgement and waited to have an Avril Experience. alas...poor avril, she looks pretty bored up there. but she's certainly giving more than she was on the DVD, where she looked kind of like a punked-out wind-up doll who barely left the microphone, myabe due to the newness, maybe due to nerves, maybe due to just what she was....but last night she smiled more, addressed the crowd, clapped her hands and seemed to be more comfy. she's grown. despite this, the show was still pretty repetitive and i spent the majority of my time looking at the audience, which was fascinating. there were huge numbers of girls under ten (yikes) and the two standing on the seats to my left knew EVERY SINGLE WORD of EVERY SINGLE SONG. there is something surreal, terrifying and yet deeply satisfying about seeing two blond 9-year-old girls singing "I CAN'T HANDLE THIS CONFUSION" at the top of their lungs. i was instantly transported to the whipping nostalgia of my first concert, seeing Cyndi Lauper at the Worcester Centrum when I was 12. I went with four 12-year-old friends of mine (my kindly step-father escorted us and sat pretty motionless beside us, observing the whole affair with a kind of athropological query on his brow and his hand under his chin a la "the thinker" statue...what a trooper). we were so far back that cyndi was about the size of a little ant but i'll never forget the pound-pound in my heart and the rush of adrenaline being part of the Concert Expereince.
so i watched these girls and felt my heart go pound-pound because i knew their hearts were going pound-pound and i think that's maybe why i went to the Man Canter. not to See Avril so much as to See People Seeing Avril. i am jealous. i want my pop childhood back, i guess. i will continue to work on it. but i will not put out any terrible 80's-nostsalgic solo records. i promise. i promise.

avril played the piano (a steinway grand) for a few songs and for the encore she sat in on drums while her band covered blur's "song 2" (the WHOO-HOO song). she's a renaissance girl. nobody truly understands my feelings about avril. i wonder who she is, i wonder how she is able to handle never having had a real adolescence, i wonder what this touring and recording life does to you when it hits you at 16 and not 25, when it hit me, i wonder whether she actually has an original musical voice under there that actually feels heard beneath the veneer of pop and celebrity culture that surrounds her like a toxic moat. i was unable to personally give her my "together" DVD (www.dresdendolls.com/music/karaoke/index.htm) because my request to get backstage was strangely rejected from her management (theory: we think she's actually aware of the video i made and thinks it's Mocking Her, which it's NOT, fucking...it's a Heartfelt Work Of Art). i went to bed feeling very empty. i wanted more. i wanted to feel.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

C'mon Do the Vegetarian Haggis

So off i went, in the company of only Emily "Wizzle" White, tour managress deluxxxe, crew-less, brian-less, bold and ready to play three solo shows in the land of my kin, bonnie Scotland. The flight over to europe was very auspicious, we were seated in front of 23 members of The Young Ambassadors Brass Band, an almost all-male, definitely all-british crew of brass-playing hooligans who had just finished a tour of their own in the states. They immediately asked us about the band (after Emily accidentlaly spilled 45 Dresden Dolls "bad habit/girl anachronism" sampler CDs out of her bag) and asked if we were "like taTu". taTu is a russian teeny-bopper band of two underage girls who make out with each other. We said no, and informed them that emily wasn't actually in the band, but that we would make out with each other if they gave us fifty dollars (each). They declined but one of the dudes behind us grabbed the samplers and asked if it was OK to try to sell them to everyone on the plane for a dollar. Fine with us. So he went from the front of the back of the plane trying to sell our samplers like an unstoppable drunken force, pausing only once to run back to our seats and ask us what the music sounded like. He then resumed his enterprise and earned us $21. Awesome! The rest of the flight involved him and his friends throwing shoes at us and sneaking up behind me to put clothespins in my hair.

The first few days in Edinburgh were vacation days, and I wandered around in ecstasy, soaking up the the marvels of the fringe fesitval. For those unaware, the Edinburgh fringe is the largest fringe theater festival in the world....it spans the month of august with over 200 venues, thousands of plays and events and endless activity.... it's basically disneyland for actors and artists. Everywhere you go and everywhere you look there is something happening, street performers everywhere, theater at all hours, music seeping out the cracks of the sidewalks. I almost wept when I started reading through the fringe schedule and realized that I would probably have time to see two or three out of the 26,478 plays being put up. That first night we went to a stand-up show of my wonderful old friend Eugene Mirman (he's opened up for us in Boston, and has toured with Modest Mouse and other rock acts around the world....and he's VERY FUNNY: www.eugenemirman.com). The most hilarious yet disturbing part of his act was a found magazine that he presented called "Revolve": it was The Bible in "people magazine" format to make it palatable to teen girls. Even the inside layout was the same as teen people or elle girl magazine (including pix of hottt teen boys and girls!)....but it was The Bible. THE BIBLE. I won't even go into it. He also played some wonderful tape-recordings of a phonecall he received from a Christian Phone Company that was trying to get him to switch away from ATT and MCI because "ATT and MCI support Gay Marriage". Eugene asked politely if he switched, would gays Just Go Away? The woman held it together pretty well, seemed to empathize with Eugene who went on a theatrical rant about how Gays Should All go Away, and the conversation that ensued was priceless. We almost peed our pants. After the show, Eugene took us to the Library Bar, which is an old university library (with old wooden and glass-door shelves and books and chandeliers and the Whole Deal) but during the fringe it's converted into a VIP bar for the comedians. I was Good and did not drink. The next day we pitpatttered around and I went to rehearse my piano parts at a friend-of-a-friends apartment. Confronted with the friend-of-a-friend, it turned out that he was a musician named Mr. Andy and he started blowing wonderful music out of his trumpet. I met a few of his housemates and one was a beautiful girl named Ms. Ruby who could tap-dance and within a few minutes it was determined that we had to do a trumpet/tap-dancing version of "Coin-Operated Boy". We rehearsed. Then at night we met up with Eugene again to see Daniel Kitson (www.danielkitson.com), an insanely funny comedian whose whole fringe run was sold out. Highlight of his show: his description of the terrible feeling you get when you find out that someone you hate loves the same band you do. Equally great: his description of sitting in a train car with a swarthy teenager playing annoying techno music off of his new-fangled phone for his girlfriend and the triumphant mutiny of the rest of the passengers. I can't do it justice, you have to go see for yourself. Tell him amanda says hi.

The next day was a train trip to Aberdeen for the first show and I savored the Scottish countryside and the clickityclacking train sound that I love so much. I love trains. I love airplanes, but I love trains more, because you can move around in them more and there's more things outside to watch. But I love both. Testaments to what's left of a civilized society. The Show Itself was nerve-wracking but I played well and people, who came out in good numbers, seemed totally into it. There is a part of me that feels amputated without brian, even though there is a sense of freedom. I wasn't a solo player for long enough to really have the right perspective, and playing solo has always felt like it's somehow not legitimate. I think this trip pretty much erradicated that feeling. I attacked the piano with a ferocious determination and ignored the fact that my left hand was unsupported by the thump of the bass drum and that I had no-one on stage to communicate with. I communicated directly to the audience instead and it felt even more personal than usual...sonically and emotionally naked. I fell asleep thrilled and exhausted and we caught a train back to Edinburgh the next morning.

I ran straight over to Mr Andy's for a final rehearsal of trumpet and tap-dancing and when I got there found more friend-of-friends, so what was once to be a tap-dancing a trumpet version of Coin-Operated boy turned into a full schedule of collaborations that included "amsterdam" with Mr Andy on upright bass and new friend-of-friend-of-friend Mr Nathaniel on guitar and what the hell we arranged a whole new song from scratch that Mr. Nathaniel had written, called "Hold Me". It was a sort of old-timey ditty a la "honey pie" by the beatles and the lyrics were written from the point of view of the last man on earth who has survived the Apocolytic Reign Of Fire to find that he is the only survivor, except for one monkey and an all-girls choir. We added a breakdown in the middle that involved me playing the piano with my left hand and strumming the guitar with my right, while Mr. Nathaniel played the frets with his left hand and used his free hand to slap Ms Ruby's ass in time with the music (while she tap-danced wildy, of course), and she in turn played the strings of the Upright Bass with her right hand while Mr. Andy used his free hand to take a trumpet solo. If it sounds confusing, it was. But it was beautiful.

We had been offered a slot at the all-night Bongo Club cabaret by a friend of an ex-girlfriend of a friend of a friend of a friend, so we decided to meet there later that night. I told them I would try to bring Regina (The Ms. Regina Spektor), who had a show scheduled that night. She and I met up for lunch before her soundcheck and I brought her to the forest cafe, which i had discovered a few nights earlier (on recommendation from a great band i met called terrafolk - www.terrafolk.org - who played super-tight gypsy covers of beethoven and van halen). it was a classic anarcho-punk co-op cafe with a big leaf-and-branch-filled room for sitting and the most delicious vegetarian food. we ate and got good green tea and shared stories and woes and then went to her soundcheck and tried a little song together, which we played that night at her show which was, of course, fucking brilliant. regina spektor is a piano-playin-poety-from-another-planet-singin-bad-ass motherfucker. i watched her in complete awe and was bolstered in my opinion that a piano can indeed stand on it's own three legs.

I took Regina over to the bongo club and we stuffed into the overpacked dressing room surrounded by sequined girls and flaming gay MCs before heading down to play. It was very reminiscent of the Old Dolls Days when the PA never worked and the sound was always horrible, but we managed to pull of a pretty good impromptu show. I played a few songs on my own, Regina and I did a reprise of the song that I has sang with her at her show (titled "UH-merica" and a beautiful song it is....) and then my new band took stage and all hell broke loose. After a bit of celebrating and meeting many new people (a bunch of regina's fans came over from her show and were also headed to my show the next day) i called it an early night before I got myself into Beer Related Trouble (i did not have such luck the next night). Goodbye, Regina....i always wish we could be friends all the time, but we're always in different places. That's what this is like.

The next day was Show Day in Edinburgh and I skipped soundcheck (how rock and roll)....to go to the circus. But This was not just any circus. This was the circus that puts them all to shame. This show makes Cirque du Soleil seems like complete pussies. They had their own tent and the show was a cross between Cirque Du Soleil, de le Guarda, beetlejuice, city of lost children, the dresden dolls and amadeus. There was no fixed seating, and the crowd (about 300) was directed to move around the tent floor, and the show took place at every concievable place at all times...at any given moment there might be a girl in a victorian nightgown flying on a trapeze above you while a woman ran flying by you pushing an old baby-carriage filled with apples and soap and ribbons and two men on the other side of you played along with the house band on beer bottles that they would then toast with and drink with maniacal laughter. Meanwhile, the lights were stunning and the atmosphere was just completely electric and twisted and beautiful and tragic and....just epic. I resolved then and there to drag them to the states with every ounce of energy and every penny i could muster to tour with us next year. a complete pipe dream, but who wouldn't want to come see the dresden dolls in a circus tent with the best show on earth as a double bill? c'mon. the website of the company is www.nofitstate.com and the show is called "Immortal2". if you're at the fringe, get tickets now and go see it. they also tour, so check out the dates. send them my regards. I left them a love-letter on the reverse-side of a letter that had fallen from the roof of the tent (with hundred of others, in a snowy letterfall) during the show.

Inspired by my orgasmic circus experience I played an even more maniacal set than the one before, and the crowd was wild and the club sold out. There was a wonderful pair dressed as bloody surgeons with a beautiful doll (they were supposed to be part of a larger "Mandy Goes To Med School" - inspired living installation, but i think the rest of their cast chickened out). The opener (Lapsus Linguae - i can't find a site for them but they opened all three shows) also tore it up. I kept these sets very album-oriented, unlike my solo shows in boston which are usually used as a testing ground for new material. This is sort of a frankenstein of the set i played all three nights, with all the songs smusched together:

Manner of Speaking (by TuxedoMoon)
Modern Moonlight
Missed Me
Bad Habit
Perfect Fit
Coin-Operated Boy (with Ms Ruby on tap-dancing and Mr Andy on trumpet at all three edinburgh shows)
Me & The Minibar
Bad Habit
I want you, but I don't need you (by Momus)
Sex Changes
Such Great Heights (by The Postal Service)
First Orgasm
Lua (by Bright Eyes)
Half Jack
Girl Anachronism
Amsterdam (with Mr. Andy and Mr. Nathaniel)
Hold Me (ditto - written by Mr. than)
Ampersand (yes, the very one)
Hallelujah (by Leonard Cohen)

To top off the night, i got a last-minute invitation to haul my self and the whole impromptu band over the Spiegeltent for a late night show starting at 2 am.

The Spiegeltent deserves a few words. It is a magic place. I saw my first Spiegeltent (which means "mirrortent" in german) when I was at the Adelaide fringe festival in Australia in 2000, shortly before I met brian. I was over there to See The World and try to make some money as The Bride. The business was bad there that year (at least according to all the other street performers, and I barley covered the cost of my ticket) but I saw some great World things and one was the Spiegeltent. There are actually about 20 of these tents in existence, and they travel around parking themselves at festivals and bringing cabaret joy to the people. They are so indescribably beautiful that one should just go look at www.spiegeltent.net (there's a really cool 360-degree virtual tour photo up there), but suffice it to say it is a 1920's-era wooden dance-hall tent bedecked with velvet and mirrors and stained glass. Pretty Much Heaven. There is one top company called The Famous Spiegeltent that book the entertainment and it's always a late-night destination for racy cabaret and amazing music at any theater festival. The staff and bartenders wear gorgeous weimar-cabaret inspired clothes and the whole thing is pretty much an amanda-palmer-wet-dream. so to be invited to play there was a wonderful treat, and i sat down at that shiny black grand piano at 2:15 am with a feeling of bursting joy I can't describe. The tent was full of late-night, drunken, tired, sparkling hazy applause and beauty. People sat down on the dance floor and with my broken and tired voice, I played a few songs and attempted a "Mrs. O", which always sounds better on a Real Piano, and then my impromptu band (by this time someone - at the Bongo Club, i think - had dubbed us "The Cabaret All-Stars") played our numbers and we were finally caned off stage by the management. This is the point where I started to get into Beer Trouble (and Wine Trouble, and a little bit of Cigarette Trouble) and in retrospect, I should have eaten more than just lunch that day. Skipping dinner proved to have been an unwise decision as my little yogacised body was not so Into the idea of all of these liquids, and even though I only drank about 4 drinks over the course of the night it was probably about 3 too many.

Suffice to say the next morning was a little rough but I actually felt pretty good as we caught a ride to our last show in Glasgow and I ate a sandwich to absorb the small trace of Hangover. Evil Sandwich! It made an appearance in my hotel bathroom toilet much later that night, after the show. I think playing a show is a bad antidote for a hangover, I stirred up many emotions (and the sandwich). But playing in the face of adversity, loathe as I am to admit it, always makes for the best shows. Without fail. Facing my guilt about Being Stupid and Not Taking Better Care of Myself gave birth to an Amanda vs. Amanda show and I threw myself into the songs with every little bit of anything I could muster. And it worked just fine. The house was sold out, again, the crowd was fucking incredible, and I left stage and collapsed immediately on a couch and Wizzle needed to pry me off with a spatula to get in a cab back to hotel, where i briefly re-visted my sandwich (evil!) and fell into a sweet slumber. I felt much better in the morning and the flight home was uneventful, save for running into the Bravery at Heathrow. They are the omnipresent Band who we run into No Matter Where We Are. I mean, it's uncanny. They were on their way to Florida and I was on my way to the Tie Rack where I had left my boarding pass like an idiot while buying a scarf.

Brian, like a true friend, picked me up at the airport and we drove straight to Whole Foods (which is like Mecca in the world of the Dresden Dolls, every day at lunch we chant and prostrate ourselves towards the Whole Foods in Austin, TX which is like the mothership that will take us all away when the Man finally takes over the World). He tried on the vintage kilt and jacket I got for him (wicked sexy and no underwear to be authentic, but then again brian would look sexy wearing a dropcloth) and then we went to our old haunt The Lizard Lounge where a great local band that Brian recently discovered, Humanwine, was putting on an acoustic show. I was almost passing out from jetlag but it was perfect music to sit and be exhausted to...a gorgeous combo of guitars and haunting singing (go see: www.humanwine.org). Brian seems to be much happier now that he's Had A Rest.

All in all I give this trip an A. it would have gotten an A+ if not for the Evil Sandwich and the Beer Trouble.

I am so happy to be home and have re-established by relationship with my yoga mat and kettle. no more Beer Trouble until after the record is recorded. she said.

Oh, and for anyone who has ever travelled, ever, or for anyone who hasn't, i highly highly recommend "The Art Of Travel" by Alain de Botton. His previous book, "How Proust Can Change Your Life" is also brilliant. They are both quick reads and sort of humorous yet deeply profound pop-philosophical wanderings that make your soul go "yes! yes! fuck! yes!"

I would also like to publicly state how awesome Dan Savage is for giving us a shout-out in his sex-advice column "Savage Love" (www.villagevoice.com/people/0534,savage,67087,24.html). I've been a huge admirer of his ever since seeing him speak in 1997 and now he's helping us take over the world! I love him. Return the favor and read all of his sex advice, because He Knows.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Breaking and Making

Such a strange mix of feelings.

We've never cancelled a single show, and now three days before the flight we're pulling out of an entire tour.
Brian doesn't want to go, is going through his own thing, and I am very supportive of him....while also going through my own understandable frustration about it. I know, deep down, that we've made the right decision and that things could be no other way, but then I find myself plagued with haunting visions of a girl from FInland showing up at a Festival that she's spent a years allowance on a ticket, defied her parents orders and driven 23 hours with her best friend who is dying of leukemia only to arrive there and find, a la the Wally World scene in "Vacation", a tattered sign scotch-taped to a chainlink fence, blowing in the wind: "Sorry, Dresdin Dolls show is Cancell". She the bursts into tears and forthwith curses my name every night before she goes to bed until she dies. fine fine. maybe it won't be that bad.

We've done a complete 180, Brian and I. I remember back when my nickname for him used to be Mr. Get In The Van because he was so gung-ho about touring. I, on the other hand, was always dragging my feet and really reluctant to leave. Now I've acclimated and Brian is feeling the reverse. It just goes to show, nothing's ever the way you think it will be. I am still going to go play the shows we were scheduled to do in Scotland, alone, which is slightly terrifying but should be fun. Emily is coming with me and it's fringe-festival time in Edinburgh, which I've dreamed about going to see I was a Wee Bairn. I'm bracing myself for a flood of emails about Why The Tour Is Cancelled and Are You Ok and Is Brian Ok and general What The Fuck and am deeply considering coming up with some kind of auto-reply to spare myself typing the same email 148 times. Meanwhile....I spent the last three days just keeping body and soul together, drinking tea and staring at the wall a lot, while everybody hustled and bustled this way and that and tried to come to the right decision. I stepped back. I took long bicycle rides. I did no work. I sat by the phone. I went to the movies. I finished two songs. I met with old friends. I tried to remember myself. I tried to find some love. I tried to get my mind off of everything. The movies really do help you do that, I noticed, after I left the theater. I didn't think about my problems at all for two hours. No wonder ticket sales for movies skyrocketed during the depression. So I went back to the movies again. I highly recommend "Me and You and Everyone We Know". ))<>(( Miranda July is a woman I think I would marry if I were the lesbian type and the marrying type.

The Recording is supposed to start in a few weeks and I'm feeling cautious but also looking forward to it. We recorded 19 songs in Sean and Paul's new studio in Revere (nicknamed "Severe" around these parts; not the savoryest part of Boston but certainly has it's charm). They've jsut moved in there and nothing has been touched (or cleaned?) since 1957. The control room looks like the Brady Den, replete with wood and fake-stone paneled walls, like a ski lodge. There was an old mason and hamlin piano in the corner but after cutting a few tracks with it it was just impossible to play, and sounded icky, so we ended up cutting all of the tracks with the Kurtweill. Another 180: I used to abhor playing a keyboard, now I'm pretty much committed to the conclusion that I am not a piano player but a kurtweill player and it's possible that the album will be tracked with keyboard And Piano and that's just fien with me. You couldn't have gotten me to agree to that a few years ago if you'd held a paintball gun to my head. The material sound really, really good. My relationship to this new batch is a weird one. These songs are, generally, a lot less personal than the batch on Record#1 and for some reason that makes me feel very funny inside. I'm just not as attached. On the last record, every song was The Song and had been The Song for some perdiod of my life. Bad Habit was The Song for a few years and so was Slide and so was Half Jack. But on this record....none of these songs have rooted themselves inside me and festered. So they feel.....well, not Not As Good but maybe Not As Real. I think this will be the case for every record I make from now on. I think the first record is like the first true love, or losing your virginity. For better or for worse, i don't think you ever feel that way again, ever.

Still, I am taking care of myself, meditating every morning, doing yoga every day and drinking my greens. My voice is getting stronger and I'm laying off coffee and cigarettes and alcohol and yes of course all that crack cocaine I usually smoke, and it's sounding pretty good. Pope and Z are away in vermont and Lee is back from the hospital (he's fine), so things here are quiet and peaceful. The rain has been bashing down and I got caught in it yesterday while riding my bicycle and it felt really good to be poured on and I got home sopping wet and put my bathrobe on and there's nothing like that feeling of walking around in your warn apartment wet from the rain with your bathrobe on and the sky dark and your wet clothes hanging on the shower rod.

yesterday i read a new set of lyrics to a friend and he liked everything except the part where i mention an ampersand. he said nobody knows what an ampersand is. i found that impossible to believe. so my activity today is to ask everybody if they know. and if i get at least a 50% positive response, the ampersand stays. if not, i'm fucked and need to find another word for ampersand, which there ISN'T, so i'm just fucked, plain and simple.



Saturday, August 06, 2005

japan - day 6, billy corgan & home

I ended up skipping tink tink (dammit) in favor of going to see billy corgan at a tokyo club. my interest was especially piqued because he had been quoted in some magazine or other saying that the dresden dolls had influenced his last record. what? ok, maybe. stranger things have happened. i know very little about the man and his music, other than seeing the smashing pumpkins open up for the chili peppers in 1991 (along with pearl jam, also then pretty much unknown - i touched eddie vedder's leg when he crowd surfed!! whoo!). one interesting thing about my musical history was the aparent bubble i unwittingly lived in during the nineties. i didn't really learn about nirvana until kurt cobain was dead and i never listened to the radio or watched MTV so i was (and still am, for the most part) completely clueless about most of the rock icons of the nineties. i see this as an advantage most of the time. at least i can still discover the best of it (when i finally bought Nevermind in 1999 i was like "holy shit! nobody told me this was GOOD!"). i continue to astound brian (and emily, especially, the true child of the nineties) with my ignorance. Stone Temple Pilots....they were a rap band, right?

no-one else was interested in coming, so emily and i arranged tickets and went off to see what Billy Corgan Solo looks like. and it looks very beautiful, turns out. the light show was a genius set of folding screens behind the minimal keyboard and drumpad band, whose instruments were encased in flowery, hand-welded art nouveau sculptures. for better or worse, the music blew my mind: it was as if someone had taken me and transported me to a random nightclub in 1983. it was not derivative...it was more like being in a sound museum. very mid-tempo, very joy division, very intense. every time mr. corgan looked in our direction, i felt bullet eyes piercing my brain. whatever kind of music he was playing, the guy had an unbelievable stage presence. afterwards we said hello and hung out for a minute or two, talking about japan and japanese culture. mr. billy corgan seems very deliberate, that's the best word i could come up with. a guy who has spent a lot of time thinking and working through and measuring carefully. turns out he had found out about the dolls through an agent we know who passed our disc along. things happen. they keep happening.

our last morning in tokyo i woke up early and wanted nothing more than to just be alone and soak up the last few moments. i took a long walk around our neighborhood and paid a visit to a nearby temple, where i sat in a chair for a while, half meditating and half watching the monks going through their rituals, and then took a walk through the cemetery. there were lilies in the garbage. i took one that wasn't too wilted.

13 hours on a flight to new york and then a 3 hour layover and 2 hour delayed flight to boston.
i watched the wizard of oz (cried four times, mostly towards the beginning) and million dollar baby for the second time this month (cried twice). flying means there are a lot of movies. i never used to see any of them, now i am in touch with the culture.

there are no lights on in my apartment. the power is out. go downstairs, where pope and zea are still up working. do you know why the power is out? lightning? ok., fair enough. go back upstairs, head for bed. there are british people in my bed. go back downstairs. do you guys know why there are british people in my bed? houseguests of lee (our benevolent landlord). ok. where's lee? in the hospital, with a terrible flu. ok. is there beer? yes. time to drink some. i try to explain, sitting on the stoop drinking beer, the double mindfuck feeling of not only seeing your apartment in the complete darkness when your'e not used to it, but also being able to vaguely make out the foreign-shaped belongings of strange surprise british houseguests. i see something on my kitchen table that doesn't live there, but i can't really see what it is. foreign amorphous objects in the bathroom. all will be revealed tomorrow, when the sun comes up. for now i am camping out in lee's bed upstairs and finding comfort in the familiar glow of my mac, which is one of the only sources of stability in my life lately. i awoke the strange birtish couple. no, no! stay in bed, you look very comfortable. we'll meet tomorrow and in the meantime, keep sleeping. good night.

i am home again. i am happy. already i have drank three cups of tea and played the piano and gone to my yoga studio and sweated my brains out. the piano is like an anti-magnet but i did finish one song that's been bouncing around in my head for the better part of a year now, and it represents a real milestone for me because i actually finished the lyrics On The Airplane, which means On Tour, which means Away From Home which I can traditionally Never Do. So maybe now i can creep out of my nasty habit shell and actually start writing a little more on the road. i can only finish writing lyrics when the song is more or less finished in my head and i just need words combined together and filling in blanks, but it's a start. music is all in my head, it's not in my fingers and i need to remember that i can do whatever i want. i'm honestly like fucking rainman when it comes to songwriting. i need to cure myself.

currently listening to spiritualized (ladies and gentleman we are floating in space), i forgot how brilliant that music is for calming nerves, and it's starting to feel a little tiny bit like fall, so i put on my Nad Navillus CD (iron night) which is one my favorite fall CDs of all time, to, like, kind of prepare for fall coming. so i'm not surprised. fall always scares me a little. because then comes the winter. anyway.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

japan - days 2 3 4 and 5

a little background is necessary here, so please bear with me. i have an old friend, david franklin (aka manta), who i met back in 2000 through pope who was, at the time, shooting neovoxer (www.neovoxer.org) and i was acting in the film and being part of the general mayhem. manta is a performance artist and a martial arts instructor for an esoteric japanese style called shintaido, and after being invited to attend some of his boston classes (which were often held outside in random parks) i was really turned on to the practice. i went to one weekend-long shintaido retreat back in 2000, where i found the whole shintaido community very tight-knit and welcoming. there are probably less than 1000 folks in the united states into shintaido. there are other small communities all over the world, but japan is where the style originated and where the largest number of folks practice. a brief history is difficult, but you can go to www.shintaido.org and get a basic idea. it was founded in the 1960s as a reaction against the violent and careless direction that karate and other japanese martial arts were taking, and was more or less developed by a bunch of artists through a long workshop process. watching someone practice it looks like a combination of karate, tai chi, primal scream therapy, and modern dance improvisation. on our second european tour, we invited manta to travel with us on the tour bus for the purpose of videotaping (it was on that fateful journey that the avril lavigne "karaoke verite" video was born) and kicking our asses awake in the morning to practice shintaido. some of my fondest memories of that tour were of running "Eiko" across a field in blackheath, england at dawn, screaming "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAEEEEE" at the top of my lungs at the rising cloudy sun. anyway, as soon as we realized we were coming to japan i wrote manta straightaway to see if he could hook us up with some shintaido folks over here, and indeed he shot right back that his friend, jet, lived right near tokyo and would probably love to come to the festival and do some practicing. as fate would have it, there was a "waterfall training" already scheduled in a nearby town right after the festival, and jet invited us to come along. i knew little about this but figured it could only be interesting and probably wonderful, so i said fuck yes. everybody else but brian bailed out (emily wanted to stay at fujirock and see bands; sean slade, joel and robert preferred to have nothing to do with a potentially freezing cold waterfall and their potential submersion Into It and instead chose to go to tokyo and look at girls and temples) so we got on the train the next morning with jet and his friend mr. oi and began our journey.

jet spoke some english, but communication was limited to the basics. we took two trains, buildings disappearing and rice paddies growing, and then took a taxi from the last train stop to the mountain, which has been a holy buddhist place for centuries. there was a large shrine across from our small inn (which was run by a kindly old buddhist monk) and a path along a rocky stream leading up to the waterfall. during the day, it was an obvious tourist destination for japanese and there was a handful of families with kidlets bathing in the stream. our inn was very spartan and beautiful; each room was in the old japanese style, with only woven straw mats on the floor and one low table, otherwise no furniture, no beds. we slept on thin futons that were folded in the closet along with the quilts and pillows. after we arrived, we met the other shintaido folks who had made the trek to the mountain for the training. there were five other men besides jet and mr. oi and two women, everyone mostly in their 30s or 40s. we met goro, a beautiful long-haired guy who was the waterfall training leader, and we headed out to a beautiful clearing in front of the shrine to practice shintaido for about an hour in preparation for going up the mountain. mr. oi was the sensei (the teacher/leader) for the shintaido practice and gave his instruction in gorgeous broken english for our benefit, which was very kind, since my shintaido was fucking rusty and i'd forgotten a lot.

then we went to the waterfall. this is where things started to get very interesting. one woman who spoke excellent english interpreted everything that goro told us as we prepared, one by one, to go through this process which apparently has roots stretching back ages in the buddhist, shinto and japanese warrior traditions. all eleven of us walked the paths and stairs up to the base of the waterfall, which was about 20 stories high and loud as hell. on the way up we bowed at the small shrines built into the sides of the mountain and purified our hands and mouths (via swishing) with the water from the shrine, which was trickling directly, they said, from mount fuji. above the waterfall itself was built a wooden balcony on a gorge that overlooked the place where the crashing waterfall met the earth, and this is where we prepared and left our belongings. the trees and flora on the mountain were thick and rainforesty and there were luminescent black butterflies and spiders flitting about everywhere. goro passed out sandals made of rope that we tied to our feet for traction while walking in the slick, rocky white-water; then he determined an order in which people would enter the waterfall - basically from most to least experienced....there were men there who had done this training 100 times and a few total novices like us. a small wooden box of sea salt was passed around and we rubbed the dry salt on our bodies for purification ("private parts" area - very important). there was a short meditation and then we descended altogether into the rocks and water and goro took his place at a large rock that faced the waterfall (whose base was probably about ten feet wide). as we stood there, deafening waterfall bits bursting in our faces, goro began the ceremony with what i assume was a kind of blessing of the waterfall, though it appeared more like a exorcism. hands clapping powerfully together, japanese words shouted and muttered, the rest of the sea-salt scattered, a bottle of water from the mountain shrine splashed into the spray, and then mr. oi entered the water (fully dressed - we were the only ones not wearing a full "gi" - the traditional white martial arts uniform).

i don't know if you've ever tried to stay erect under a massive waterfall, but it's fucking near impossible. even the masters like mr. oi would get violently punched over by the sheer velocity of the water and have to re-find their footing. most stayed under for less than a few minutes; the hardcore would remain there, locked to the earth like human edifices, for what seemed like ages. it wasn't a question of man vs. nature with man emerging triumphant, it was more a vivid display of man triumphing over the division between man and nature itself. a teeny woman before me was knocked down four or five times and finally made it through a few moments in the waterfall without tumbling. my turn came, i waded through water and rocks trying to completely clear my mind, and i stood in a very light part of the waterfall (i knew we'd be returning the next morning and i figured it wold be ok to be a pussy the first time around). the water hit my head and i raised my hands. it all made perfect sense.

when everyone was finished we convened back up on the platform and bowed to each other and the water a final time. then we descended back to the inn, where we had strict orders from goro to spend fifteen minutes in the baths. so i was alone in the women's communal bath with the two japanese shintaido women (whose names i never knew), and we soaked there, naked in the big tiled tub. i talked to them a little about how grateful i was to be, finally, around people who were taking care of themselves. they listened and asked questions. i told them about Rock World and the many self-destructive and harmful people we encounter. then i went up to our room and fell asleep. everybody left except jet and goro, who spent the night in the inn with us. we all ate a late dinner together in the inn dining-room....the best food i've eaten here by far. the kindly monk prepared it for us and it was a lavish spread of sashimi, soup, tempura, salad and tofu. a smorgasbord of orgasmic food, eaten with jet and goro who were now my two favorite japanese people in the world, talking about Everything and laughing. after dinner the monk cut up a watermelon for us and proudly showed us the pictures of the sumo wrestler who got filmed by CNN doing waterfall training outside his inn. then we all adjourned to jet and goro's room, practiced sitting meditation for a half hour, and then went to sleep like logs (i was a log, at least. i think brian may have been more like a quaking aspen).

the next morning we awoke and ate a similarly incredible breakfast, then went to the temple clearing to prepare for waterfall training: day two. jet showed us a few good exercises to do before stage (they really liked our show by the way - "very strong. very powerful energy. yes. you two - very important - stay soft and connected") and then i sat and watched the two of them do some symbolic sword-fighting using long wooden staffs. the two of them would occasionally get locked together, each facing the sky with swords pointed heavenwards and clashing upwards like two coital birds.

then back up to the waterfall we went....rope shoes, meditation and preparations, salt, excorcism. this time it was only the four of us. i resolved to become a human rock and i entered the water (which was colder than the day before) and after getting knocked over multiple times i managed to stand my ground for a few minutes. your mind has no choice but to clear. maybe a stray thought to keep your balance, but there is just you and your body getting eaten and reborn by thousands of gallons of water pummeling your meaningless self. i knew it was time to go when it was, and i let myself get spit out back into the world.

we were exhausted by all this and went to rest again in the inn, we left a dresden dolls CD with the monk and thanked everyone there for taking good care of us, then started to head back towards tokyo with jet.
we talked about japan and america and europe. it's a small world while being very big. japan has been wonderful for me because it has forced me at every turn to be so humble. everybody here is very quiet and
respectful and i am overly self-conscious about seeming like the Ugly American. this has increased my general mindfulness about everything i do, from the volume at which i speak to the way i eat to the way i sit
down in a chair. this is good, this is very good.

after returning briefly to tokyo we went to kyoto by train, with robert and sean, to visit my friend zach. he's an ex-pat i went to college with briefly, now married to a japanese doctor named maki and fathering a gorgeous one-year old boy named gen. we were welcomed warmly into zach's house and got to commune with the youth a little bit (gen was pretty freaked by us strangers) and listen to zach play his shakuhachi, a traditional japanese bamboo flute that he's been studying on and off for more than ten years. then we spent a quiet night in a veggie-centric kyoto restaurant in a converted traditional townhouse, where we shared our large low table (completely coincidentally) with a band from okinawa called tink tink (pronounced "tinku tinku", a double reference to "twinkle twinkle little star" and the sound a shamisen makes when you pluck it). they were hyper and adorable and we took pictures and traded CDs and promised to try to make it to their show a few days later in tokyo. we spent the next day in kyoto staggering through the heat getting awestruck by temples and shrines and beautiful things. i bought some socks. we ate some sushi. i love this country.

back in tokyo now, everyone seems to be in great spirits, especially sean slade (our esteemed producer). it's been wonderful to combine the journey with a few scattered conversations here and there about the upcoming recording (we start september 10th) and choices we may make about this and that. but generally i haven't been giving a fucking thought to music. the only thing i've listened to over here is my "the best of fad gadget" cd, which is all i may ever need for the rest of my life. i love fad gadget. i do i do i do.

i have seen the collision of goth and disney and it is harajuku.