Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Cardinal

I'm in my hotel room, in London, we've been on a press/promo tour for almost two weeks. I am fucking dead. Nobody understands exactly what this is when I tell them, so for the interested, a press tour is this (extracted from our printable schedule):

HOTEL INFO FOR TODAY in MILAN (tomorrow amsterdam, next day london)

Hotel:Una Tocq, Address: Via Tocqueville, Milan Tel: +39 02 6207 1
Check in by: 6:45pm (2 hours ahead is advisable – leave 1 hour minimum

Depart: 8:45pm Milan (MPX), Italy Flight KL163
Arrive:10:35pm Amsterdam, Holland

Hotel Information for tonight: American Hotel Amsterdam :
Leidsekade 97, 1017 PN AmsterdamTel #: +31 (0) 20 556300

10.00:am check out. Transfer to Universal office for interviews – please have make up done
10.30: MTV.IT interview for MTV web site ( with digital camera) Sara Poma
10.50: PIG monthly alternative trend/culture mag, circ. 50.000: they request 1 casual shot
+quick Q&A on what DD are wearing
press interviews
11.10: RUMORE monthly specialized rock music magazine. Circ. 25.000.
11.30: ROLLING STONE monthly music and trend magazine, circ 50.000
11.50: break
12.05: XL monthly music-trend LaRepubblica newspaper,circ.600.000
12.25 KATAWEB leading news portal, interview for their music page
12.45 ROCKOL music news site
1.05pm: lunch break
2.15: press interviews
2.15: ROCKSTAR monthly music magazine, circ. 40.000
2.35: JAM monthly specialized adult rock music mag, circ. 20.000
2.55: VOGUE leading fashion and trend monthly maga,circ. 100.000
3.15: ROCKHARD monthly specialized rock music magazine, circ. 15.000
3.35: ROCKSOUND monthly music mag
3.55: transfer to Radio Popolare, Via Ollearo 5
4.20: RADIO POPOLARE. Taped interview (show: “Patchanka”) for syndacation of
alternative radio stations across the country. To be aired in April
4.50 Transfer to ‘La Bottega Del Forno’ Corso Sempione 82
5.10 refresh make up
5.30 ALL MUSIC:Interview for ‘Extra’, weekly show dedicated to rock and alternative bands.
Dresden Dolls as special guests. 15 mins taped interview (will air in April)
6 00: end of promotion and leave for airport (50 mins drive)
8.45 take off for amsterdam - fly
10.35: Dutch rep. to meet band at airport - Drive to hotel.

Asleep by midnight. wake. repeat. wake. repeat. wake. repeat. wake. repeat. wake. repeat. wake. repeat. wake. repeat. wake. sometimes play small promo shows in smoky clubs or in fluorescent-lit painfully sterile radio stations.

and how does all this feel?

1. get to talk about myself, my songwriting, and my most innermost pain all day with foreign journalists who enthusiastically seem to think our new record is the shit
2. hopefully lay groundwork for good record sales in europe
3. meet label and publicist people who work their asses off for us, unseen all day in european offices

1. not enough sleep
2. no exercise
3. extremely limited access to loved ones, even via telephone
4. terrible food
5. constant back and neck ache from plane, taxi, train and van travel
6. voice loss
7. severe loss of sense of self
8. urge to kill others around self due to overexposure of personalities
9. bad air, bad decor and bad vibes abounding
10. glimpses of cities through bus and plane windows without even getting to take a walk outside the fucking hotel
11. overwhelming feelings of guilt for not enjoying myself when others would kill to be on a trip to promote their own record
12. almost no privacy
13.. italian wirless access (non-existant)
14. clogged pores and redness from laziness and use of shower soap on face
15. itching, irritabilty and general disease
16. swelling, bruising, nausea, high fever, punctured lung, diarrhea, gasping, choking and moaning etc.

and we do this why....?
pros must outweigh cons in some universe.

This is one of our few nights off. We're almost done. Home for three days off, three days' worth of tour, and then more of the above "wake. repeat. wake. repeat." for a week or so in japan in australia. I have the image of that frog experiment in which the frog will jump out of hot water but not if he starts in the water cold, warmed, gradually unknowing to an unnatural and untimely end. Brian and I are both starting to get chronic airportitis, that feeling you also get in the supermarket or the drugstore if you go at 3 am and you walk dazed down an aisle, forgetting what a supermarket or drugstore is for. We have started to sleep while sitting, and we have started to think that banging our heads together on the plane, to see what kind of sound it REALLY makes, is a good time. Things are weird. We baaa like sheep being dragged around by ropes constantly and find it hilarious. Nobody understands.

Talking with the journalists is a trip. They generally love the record...due out April 18th. It's called "Yes, Virginia". Nobody in Europe gets the reference. "Aren't you afraid that this is too personal music?" What a question. We talk a lot about Virginia, the letter, the idea. Believing in things you cannot see. Trusting. Hardly an interview without the state of current events fitting in with the whole theme of the record title and the songs....the current mess over folks denying the holocaust, free speech being censored, the cartoon Muhammad issue...all of it converging over hotel lobby coffee tables. We did a naked photo shoot in germany because we were too lazy to get dressed.

But before I left for the hellhole of a promo-tour, there was The Cardinal.

You have learned from a previous post that I am not a hippie.

To add my typical-amandian disclaimer pre-able to this story, as i must, i am not a Nature Person either. I generally don't get nature and I certainly don't usually get Art about Nature. I have an aversion to paintings of Nature and songs about birds the way I assume anybody of discerning taste does. Nature just seems like such an easy target. It's like a love song. It's there, it's great, we know, why bother? But this is obviously teenage hangover and short-sighted, and the best Art is the probably the rare Tasteful Nature painting and the Tasteful Love Song (done only, I am convinced, by Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, John Lennon or equivalent).

In any event, this Cardinal showed up shortly after I got back from the last leg and before I left for my solo show and promo trip to New York a few weeks ago.

He arrived with a THWOK on my window. I heard him from the bathroom and rushed into the kitchen, expecting to see a dead, or at least unconscious, bird on my fire escape. I knew that THWOK sound, birds had come and mistaken my window for safe passage before. But he was perched there, fully conscious, all nature-y looking with his red redness and his little black mask and disarmingly cute yellow little beak and now-very-popular-with-the-girls-in-new-york unihawk/mullet hairdo. And I felt heavy for this bird. He had obviously flown into the window thinking it was part of the sky. Damn humans, I cursed us, why must we fuck up the sky by building apartments with windows, thus screwing up the birds forever. Oh, but I was wrong. In a few moments time, he flew into the window again. Full force. THWOK. And then again. THWOK. Each time his beak and head would make full impact on the upper pane of my kitchen window and then he would re-alight onto the railing of the fire escape outside my second-story kitchen window. And now I was mystified and terrified. What on earth was he DOING? I taped up a piece of paper, an old letter from a dead friend, to the window, hoping this would aid him in de-mystifying the window-sky continuum.

The next day, around the same time, he came back.

THWOK. THWOK. THWOK. THWOK. THWOK. THWOK. THWOK. THWOK. I was really distressed. The paper hadn't worked. I opened the window, from the top. My movement scared him away, but sure enough, after a few minutes he came back. I stood there, perfectly still and bare feet freezing from the arctic air pouring onto the floor (it was about thirty-five degrees outside). I just waited. Then the oddest thing happened: he flew into the space where the window HAD been, fluttered all confused, didn't fly into the room and quickly retreated back to a tree. So, I thought, this is a masochist bird. He doesn't WANT to come in. He wants to bash his head against my window. The next few days, he arrived at around mid-morning every day. he was usually at work by the time I woke fact two days in a row I awoke - i kid you not - to the now sweet and familiar THWOK THWOK THWOK THWOK THWOK THWOK THWOK THWOK that I had now become accustomed to. I tried my window experiment a few more times, always with the same results as before. I was fully freaked. It was going on five or six days and I was really starting to wonder what in hells name was going on. But at the same time I was secretly pleased. This bird had chosen MY window to exercise his weird S&M ritual and NOT somebody else's and I therefore must be Special. This of course made me feel horribly guilty and I wished the bird would go away and yet stay and yet go away and stay. He would come by when I was practicing the material for the solo show, which was during the afternoon, trying to nail down the Chopin Nocturne (opus 9 no. 2) I had beaten myself into trying to re-learn from my college years so I could feel like a Real Musician. I began to love the little chirping sound he would always make before he thwoked. I would hear it from anywhere in the apartment and go into the kitchen to watch. Better than television.

Lee's theory (we had several morning conversations over tea in his place to the soundtrack of THWOK THWOK THWOK THWOK coming from my window downstairs) was that the bird was seeing his own reflection and wanted to fight. I didn't fully buy this theory. I've been looking out of my window for YEARS and I've never seen Cardinals in Combat.

Another friend of mine, who Knows Me Well, had a better theory: it was Matchbook.

Matchbook was my Boyfriend in college. I was 18. I met him my freshman year in the most weird and perfect way. I had been trying to overcome my fear of performing for years and years, and I scheduled my first performance in a room at the college where there was a grand piano and about 50 seats. I made flyers and shook sweating every night for two weeks. I planned about 13 or 14 songs. The night came and I played, for the 20-plus strangers assembled there, with my heart and head in tremors and my soul all terrified. I didn't have any friends at the time, barely, I didn't have anyone to talk to after the show...I just knew I had played, gotten over it, and had a recording that I could use as a demo tape with which to Move Forward With My Life. The concert ended at around 10 pm and I went back to my room and probably shook some more and killed time until my DJ slot at the college radio station, which was from 3-5am. I usually played a weird mix of The Legendary Pink Dots, Neubauten, marching band music and strange spoken word from the music library....generally I would just pile my favorite 17 records into a bag and make live mix tapes for myself. Nobody was listening, it was the middle of Connecticut at 4 am. I ONCE got a phone call, asking me about a song I had played. I was Amazed. So I was there, spinning records to myself, and the doorbell light went off. I walked through the stacks and stacks and doors and doors to answer it, expecting it was some upperclassman DJ hipster who needed to fetch some rare superchunk or guided by voices disc that he couldn't sleep without. But instead, it was Matchbook. He was standing there, with a lit birthday candle shoved into a twinkie on a paper plate and a bottle of PowerAde. He knew me, but I didn't know him, he said. He lived in the house/society where I was thinking about living, and he has seen my flyer so he and some others had come to check out the show. And he loved it, he said. My first fan. We fell in love later that night and we stayed in love for a while. But there was a problem, which was his heroin use. I came from a place where people did plenty of pot and acid, but these sorts of drugs were mostly unknown. Of course, for the first 4 seconds I had the initial "" reaction, visions of Lou Reed & Co. dancing in my head, but on second five I was disgusted. Needles in veins, no good. He had a habit, as did other people in the house. And on top of that, he had a heart condition and a six inch scar to prove it, ran straight across his chest like a cracked riverbed from an operation he had had when he was five. After a few weeks of dating and being in love, I told him to Kick It or else forget about my girlfriend position. He agreed. A week later, he came to me one day. He knew my demand for honesty was high, and he said he was planning on shooting up that night, and that he didn't want to lie to me. Fine, I said, but I get to watch to see what all this fuss is about. Fine, he said. So along I went. We were in his friend's basement room and I watched the whole simple, knew-it-from-so-many-songs ritual. Jab. And then a few minutes later I decided I had had enough. I was hurt. So I told him I was leaving to go back to my own little cement dorm, and that he could come over for love and sleeping later. He agreed. I went home and staged a nice suicide with chocolate syrup and red food-coloring and ketchup and lots of cuts all over my legs and arms (mind you - I wasn't a cutter and never was...he was fully unprepared for this) and set up my tape recorder. Then I stripped the bedsheets, added blood, lay down and waited. About an hour later he came by (swtiched on the tape recorder) and let him discover me. I let him believe it for about 13 seconds. That was cruel enough. After that, our relationship improved. He was very angry at first but then glad I had taken the time and effort to express my frustration creatively. He kicked.

A month or so later, I took him home to meet my parents and My Friend Who Knows Me Well, and something terribly sad happened. He admitted to me that he had been using dope again and promised me that he was ready to stop. We visited the bathroom together and flushed the rest of his drugs down the toilet. It was fun. The next morning, my Friend and I took him out to Brunch. There was a piano there. I had been learning classical music and I was delighted by this piano and I left our breakfast conversation to sit down and (slightly terrified, but not so much this time) attempted to play the Chopin Nocturne (opus 9 no. 2) I had been learning. My second public performance, and people clapped. But Matchbook was nodding off at the table and, according to my Friend, heard not a note. He was Gone, eyes closed, head back. I was so naive I didn't realize what was happening, but my Friend pulled me aside in the driveway when we got home. I Never Tell You What To Do, he said, but This Time I Will. And he broke it down for me. And the weeks wore on, and the drugs went away again but I never fully trusted. But still, there was love, and there was art and we made films. He was an incredible artist, Matchbook, a brilliant painter, and we worked on our work together. He was studying hard and showed me his sketches and told me about what he was learning. We shared all of our music. We had amazing sex. For a while, things were wonderful. Then summer came, we went separate ways and effectively broke up. The next semester back in school, things were awkward but smoothed out, and then the day after christmas, he died. I got the phone call in my parents bedroom, since I was home for break. I remember putting down the phone and crying like an infant, huge racking sobs all night. His parents said it was heart problems. I'll never know what happened.

So my Friend's theory was that upon my commencing of the Chopin Practice (opus 9 no. 2), Matchbook showed up to repent and - stoned, of course - started hitting his sorry head against the window to deliver some undeliverable message. We had a good laugh over that one, but I don't believe in Things Like That, so this theory was also no good.

At this point, I actually considered looking for a bird specialist to ask, but decided against it, since I was enjoying the mystery. The morning I left for New York, he went absolutely nuts. He stayed by the window almost constantly for about two hours and THWOK THWOK THWOK THWOKED his little brain out. He obviously knew. I was sad to leave. I waited until the last minute to catch a cab for the train. I called my Friend and mused for a long time about this Red Masochist on my fire escape. I told him I had googled for Cardinals and Symbolism. Hope and Suffering were tied for first place. I looked out of the cafe car of the train and it was a gray gray sky as I pressed the phone to my head. I didn't want to tell you, he said, but I knew about the Suffering part...they're supposed to be harbingers of Death. Fantastic, I said. Maybe the train will crash.

When I came home, the Cardinal was still there. He kept the same hours and by now, it was like the sun rising and setting. THWOK was a comforting sound. I thought about blogging about him but didn't want to ruin the magic. After a space of weeks, I can finally admit that he's probably gone, the object of his affection plugging away in hotel lobbies across the wide wide sea. But my Friend was inspired to write his own reflection about the Masochist-Matchbook-Hope-Suffering-Bird and here I share it with you:

He pecked and fluttered---pecked and fluttered-peck-peck-peck-peck-peck-peck-peck
on the glass.
Scarlet symbol of “hope” and “suffering” the Cardinal at my window.
He draws me. Mystifies me. Pulled by the first peck he gave me:
into connection with his hope---hope of getting in---getting into me-that's what he wants, no?
Perhaps I'm more attached to his suffering---the suffering unrequited---for he suffers, no? Suffers for me, no?
His bloody passion reflected in his coat.
His pointed crown, tilting with strain in his trance of pain as he: peckspeckspeckspeckspeckspeckspecks.
I feel for him, I say, “Oh, here he is” when I hear, and turn to see the shock of crimson marked by the shroud of his black mask
and, bearing the weight of his need, I bend and soften toward his tiny body.
Hollow bones and feathers mostly (1.48 ounces)
Nothing. Nothing.
But the greatest weight I carry some days, seeing him at the windowpane. I face him separated: only a sheet of glass keeping me from his breath.

Am I his muse? He my poet? Does he know who I am, what I do? Does he need me? Need my help? Does he read me? Is he a mystic? A prophet? No, couldn't be . . . that's not why he's here.

Perhaps I'm wrong about The Cardinal, His Eminence-in the hierarchy of nature, which vested him with royal robes. Perhaps it is I investing the vested-one with hope and suffering--perhaps instead it is his own reflection in the glass compelling him and not at all me. With his “knock-and-you-shall-be-answered/ask-and-it-shall-be-given-you” attitude. Typical . . . for His Eminence-way--way up in the hierarchy--preening and pounding with his awe-inspiring vestments-his peaked crown. Tapping on the mirrored glass. Look at me look at me look at me! Can't get enough of him self. Narcissist!
Whoa, down boy . . . he is a bird after all and cannot be hopeful--suffer angst-can he? They cannot be egomaniacs, narcissists--read minds, or futures can they?

No. They can't. That's the answer.

He influences me though. Always comes in the mid-afternoon-pecking and fluttering persistent-passionate-entranced getting into me. He mesmerizes me always in the mid-afternoon. Influencing.
But today, the dawn of my departure on the train, he came rosy and early in the gray tired morning. Special visit---and pecked solid for an hour shouting . . .TIME TO GO---TIME TO GO---TIME TO GO. Or, perhaps: DON”T GO-DON”T GO---DON'T GO--DON”T LEAVE-DON'T LEAVE-DON'T LEAVE.
Did he know I'd not be here a while? Know I was going, and in my going that I would suffer? Is he cautioning me? Does he peck a wake-up or a warning? Is this code reveille or taps? Do I need him, his help.

He makes me think. Influences me to reflect, to make meaning.
Is he my priest, my doctor, my shaman?
Am I his steward, his idol, his savior?
Is he god; god in this tiny red? God in nature as they say? Well, of course he is! What else could he be? Rorschach! That's what god is anyway. Project what you will, and learn about yourself from your divine projections--if you dare to look upon the face of god to learn. A red inkblot on a card . . .
The Cardinal: created in my image---yes, that's it, I'm god, I'm god too . . . that's what he's telling me. Because I've given him meaning, and life with hope, intention, goals and will. Made him who he is today. I and The Cardinal----gods we are. There, I've done it, found it . . . the world in a birdseed and hope in a drip of red.
Tea time---if they have any on this train . . .
cheek pressing the windowpane
Watch the bright sky of mind---steady-fickle---foolish