I wasn’t supposed to be here tonight. But as it turns out, the four hour detour further north was a good idea.
My evening with Martin Sexton at the community theatre in Fargo, North Dakota, was a great time—at a great time. The theatre was very community, seating just a few hundred people, with Martin occupying the small thrust stage within arms reach of everyone in the room. It was a well-mannered room with a pleasant pitch. Martin equated it to giving a song workshop, a nice surprise to him it seemed. I couldn’t help but take the show personally, for more reasons than just the intimacy of the space.
A long drive to Winnipeg awaited him, but he was still generous enough to spend some time with me, talking at length about my trip, sharing a couple stories about past shows, our lives in upstate New York, and about taking risks, hitting the road, and loving what you do.
I recalled a show in 2003, at the Moore Theatre in Seattle, where Martin’s inspired tribute to hometown boy, Jimi Hendrix, left an indelible mark on my friend George and I. There was also a Christmas show in Syracuse about four years ago, where his father and sister joined in on a catalog of yule tunes. Oddly enough, I was visiting my dad in Rochester for a few days at that time, and I told Martin how I dragged him along on the 90 minute drive down the Thruway on that rare winters night. My dad’s only complaint was that he couldn’t understand the words, but I was happy to have his company and to share Martin’s music and family with him, just as I’ve done with many of my friends since. Tonight, aside from the occasional moan from the PA’s low end, Martin’s vocal was crystal clear.
Two months in and my trip may not have the eloquence of Kerouac or Steinbeck’s Travels With Charlie, or the audacity of a Blues Brothers mission from God—so committed to getting the band back together nothing else mattered. I have a lot of uncertainty. Even so, Martin, nor I, think it’s too late for a 43 year old soul to be a better man. Or that taking off on such a trip means that I’m not already.
Ever since Northampton in ’98 when Kristen put “Diner” on a mix tape for me, Martin Sexton’s music has been a constant companion and soundtrack to my hits, my misses, my romances, and my travels with Wes. Anyway, this evening was a real treat for me and I’m very grateful to Georganne, Kevin and Martin, who warmed my heart in a very cold town. Thank you.
My weekend in Minneapolis and St. Paul included a live broadcast of Prairie Home Companion at the Fitzgerald Theatre; seeing one of the best college hockey teams in the country, the University of Minnesota taking on Alaska; drinking good Manhattans and being a bit of a dufus at a friend’s birthday bash at a gay bar; and all the while trying to stay warm on long aimless, late night walks through the city with Wes. Thanks for the good time, Jen, Rebecca, Katie, Richie, Garrison, and the Gophers.
After continuing my drive up the Great River Road (or my rather aimless version of it), I have been enjoying a couple days in St. Louis. Prior to this trip, the city’s only impression on me was a big, beautiful arch that Wes and I stood at the foot of 10 years ago. This time, it’s about the people. The beer at Llywelyn’s. And a nice evening at an outdoor rink in Forest Park, though sadly, I didn’t have a partner. The music is by Sondre Lerche, from one of my favorite movies, Dan In Real Life.
Getting the opportunity to tour Sun Records and actually stand in that studio—on hallowed ground—was simply awesome. It snuck up on me. I got to hear Elvis Presley’s first recording ever made, not off YouTube or the like, but in the very room it was made. He simply strolled in off the street one day in 1953 and paid his three bucks to record “My Happiness” as a gift for his mother. Sam Phillips was not in at the time, so instead, it was “secretary”, Marion Keisker, who recorded it. Recognizing Elvis’s potential, she also made a copy to share with Sam later. I’m really more of a Johnny Cash fan.
For me, it was a historical day of newÑnot only about the origins of rock and roll, with Elvis, Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and the other cats at Sun Records, but also other things I don’t usually think of. I stood outside the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was shot, and contemplated a life far different than mine and what I could learn from it. This spot right here was far more than a tourist attraction. It was sad.
Abandoned the deep historical walkabout for the all important footie match at the Celtic Crossing Irish pub. Manchester United came back from a two goal deficit in the second half to beat Blackpool 3-2. While everyone kept pitching me some famous Memphis barbecue, I had Guinness for lunch instead.
Ambling down to the end of the road in the Mississippi River Delta. Music by Tom Waits
I spent a couple days around New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta to the south. I wanted to start the Mississippi River leg of the trip at the very beginning. Or rather, the end. Wasn’t feeling particularly photographic, but did enjoy reflecting on some aspects of this area that were new to me, versus past trips. No great insight to share at the moment, but this will come. Route 23, the only road out into the bayou was quietly fascinating, with the elevated mobile homes, the fortified banks on either side of the road, the seemingly random clusters of crypts that ensured a dryer, more secure afterlife below sea level. Based on no more than the perspective a slow, curious drive-by affords, life for the oil and fish men that reside out here seemed quite hard, with even modest reward difficult to realize.
Had a great few days with my aunt Minka and cousins, Sophie and Drew. New Orleans tomorrow.
Very quick clip of Minka, Sophie and I attempting to walk the dogs in their quiet Austin neighborhood. Ruby is the greyhound. Wesley is the orange one. And Jazz, well, Jazz is the spazz. Music by Leon Redbone