The Beginning, the Middle and the End of 29 1/2
In 2000, my friend, the very kind and talented engineer Richard Marr, suggested that I come up for a few days to his house in Boston where he had his home recording studio. I could crash on his couch and record five or so songs, and he’d get to know Pro Tools, Version God-Knows-What, in the process. Lately, I’d been drifting; the band in which I’d invested all my creative energy fell apart as too many band members wanted to be the boss, and no one of us were willing to cede to any other of us. It was the typical ego stuff that plagued many quasi-professional rock outfits, and after having put what money I had into the band’s recording, I was broke.
Richard’s gift succeeded in its mission. He produced a beautiful sounding record and the project lifted me up, steeping me in the creative process after a disappointment. We went deep and added six more tunes to the original promised five. We had an album! It documented a handful of my solo-songs, all written over a span of five years.
I loved – and still love – this record. It serves, like all records of events, as a diary entry, and this one, a document of my youth. This means it conjures partially my embarrassment (only some lyrics), and mostly my admiration. There’s beauty, fun, and of course, some super-powered female anger, which I can get behind, but no longer reproduce. That’s a vitality issue.
When 29 1/2 came out, I celebrated its release at a local club, “Pete’s Candy Store” in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My friend Todd Satterfield, who was the guitarist from the previous band, joined me on stage. Todd had come up to record with me that week in Boston, because, I guess he had nothing better to do, post-band-breakup, either. His voice and playing everywhere on that recording certainly makes the beauty of the record.
Soon afterward, having played a bunch of tri-state area shows, I planned a solo acoustic west coast tour. When I mentioned this to my mother, it appeared to concern her. “But where will you stay?” When I reported that there was a network of friends of friends from San Diego to Seattle, who’d said I could sleep on their couches, she either saw an opportunity for herself, or wanted to possibly protect me from this catch-as-catch-can, sleep-wherever-the-heck solo woman journey, or both.
“Maybe I’ll go with you”, she responded. “We can stay with my high school friend in southern California, and you have Jen in Santa Cruz, Chris in San Francisco, then we’ve got Christa in Portland….” As we proceeded to compile our list, we realized this was a viable plan, and within a few months the tour was booked.
I flew out first, meeting my mother after the first couple of shows. The very first one had me opening up for the mystical Tom Brousseau. It was the first time I’d ever heard him perform; he played with a friend of his somewhere in southern Cali, and I was appropriately blown away. Here I was, absolutely playing out of my league, but I didn’t care. I simply allowed myself to get lost in these powerful performances. I gave him a CD.
Following that kick-off, the mother-daughter road trip began at LAX, where I picked her up in the rental car and immediately told her all about this musician from North Dakota with a voice like Jimmy Scott. My mom, who was a singular mix of control freak and more of a rebel than me or you or anyone you know, pretended to listen to me while immediately securing her place behind the wheel. I can only assume it was her anxiety of being in the passenger seat on winding 101 that propelled her lead. Since this was pre-GPS and we had only AAA and the Texaco Road Maps to illustrate the route that we’d meticulously highlighted prior to our trip, I was responsible for navigating.
In the tight streets of a small city, she asked, “Should I do a U-turn here?” “I wouldn’t,” I said, inferring that we should probably make a right and another until we were back on track, before she whipped the car around in the middle of the boulevard, running up over the curb. “Well, I know YOU wouldn’t…” she said impatiently.
On one of our long drives to the next stop, she suddenly pulled over to the side of the road along the California coast. Ah, I thought, she finally needs a break. But she swiftly popped the trunk and stepped out, rounding to the rear of the car, from where she pulled out two bottles — one of vodka and the other of orange juice — and magically produced two plastic cups from her purse. She mixed the drink clumsily and handed the cup to me, before pouring another for her. We got back in the front seat and watched the sun descend brilliantly into the Pacific, before moving on to a seaside restaurant and laughing until our sides practically split. I don’t remember what we laughed at particularly, and it doesn’t matter; it was all just a classic case of the giggles.
Diligently each night, my mother sat at the merch table, selling one or two CDs to whomever came out for these sparsely attended shows, and running herself back and forth to the bar to get the appropriate change for buyers. I had t-shirts made for the “Where Can I Get A Good Bagel Around Here” Tour, my west coast joke that really wasn’t funny, listing the stops in the cities on the tour, with the cliche ‘Sold Out’ stamp across the back. I no longer have any of those, thankfully, so I either sold them out, or threw them out.
For seventeen years after that, I stored the excess boxes of 29 1/2 in my mother’s basement. On visits home, she’d occasionally ask when I’d be taking them, but of course, my one-bedroom apartment didn’t allow me the luxury of storing my own stuff. But I knew in the now streaming music era, there was no way I was ever going to get rid of those CDs.
When my mother sold her house to move into an apartment three years ago, I traveled to South Jersey for a long weekend to sort through my things. On the way down, I brainstormed ideas about what to do with the CDs, at this point, mostly not wanting to throw that amount of plastic into a landfill. Other family members descended to help with the moving-out effort, and we all spent the weekend clearing and cleaning. On Monday morning, as I heard the garbage crew approaching, I watched my mother dash outside in her purposeful walk toward the truck.
“I struck a deal with the guys,” she said, wiping her feet and closing the front door behind her. “They said you can put all the CDs out and they’ll come back later when they’re picking up recycling.” I wondered, really, what was the actual “deal” my mom struck, but I didn’t ask, because almost twenty years later, this felt like a triumphant ending. I was too afraid to press her for details on whether or not these would actually be recycled, because I couldn’t risk the truth. Instead, I hauled box after box of CDs to the curb, and plucked only two wrapped copies out of an open box, deciding those would be all I’d ever need.
You can hear it now too, if you like: I just now gave it its streaming wings at https://littlesilver.bandcamp.com.
I am forever grateful to all the people who helped out with this endeavor FOR NO MONEY AT ALL, which today appalls me, but that’s what we did then — played, sang, whatevered — on each other’s records. And then there’s my mother; a good mom supports your dream when it’s happening, and helps you close it up when it’s run its course. And do I hope that somewhere in a South Jersey dump, a sanitation worker is listening to “Long Day in a Short Skirt”? I do.