4/7/24: Ojai, California

I rolled into Ojai just after receiving a voice message from Eliot Eidelman telling me I could either go the venue where the show would be starting in about 3 hours, or drive out to his place which involved passing a roadblock and various other obstacles, including a puddle so big that it’s called “the Lake.” I decided to wait on finding his place until I was accompanied. I also had passed a bookstore called Bart’s Books that I had been told about the night before. I love used bookstores and couldn’t resist this one, which is fantastic and full of surprises. The weather in Ojai was just warm enough to wear nothing but a t-shirt, and I was still wearing the blank blue-gray t-shirt I had been wearing for a couple of days, including while running on Venice Beach. Outside of direct sunlight, I felt a chill. And Bart’s Books is mostly outdoors – the used books, which make up the majority of their collection, are outside and protected from rain, and the new books are indoors under optimal conditions. They had all the cookbooks in what was originally used as a kitchen. I ended up buying a couple of books – a Samuel Beckett collection including his short prose piece “First Love” which I highly recommend, and a book by Martin Buber called I and Thou which I read about in How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. I tried to suggest to the people working there to go to the show that evening, but it didn’t work.

I used Google Maps to take me from the bookstore to the venue, Greater Goods, which is a DIY collective. The navigator took me to what seemed to be the main location of Greater Goods, where a sign on the door said that that evening’s show would take place at another place on the cross street, just a two-minute walk away. While digesting this information I noticed a box of giveaway items beside the building, which I duly inspected, finding nothing of great interest except a box labeled “Synthetic Urine.” A little debate emerged in my mind about whether to take or leave such a mysterious substance. I had encountered bottled urine before, when working for an older gentleman who self-published a Cat periodical out of a decaying antebellum mansion located on Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, whose stately walls were streaked with cat urine. This fellow had a bottle of Wolf urine, which in my memory was not synthetic, but was actual wolf urine. It was in a spray bottle, and sold for the purpose of repelling deer and other animals who might bear an intinctual fear of wolves. This urine I found in Ojai, however, is a sex toy. I do still have it with me – just in case I need it. I don’t foresee using it for its intended purpose, though there should certainly be no shame in doing so.

I entered Greater Goods with the assistance of Josh, who was in charge and very laid-back. He was playing some music while setting up, and I recognized it as Eliott Smith. I asked him what album it was and he told me it was Either/Or, which I believe is his most well-known album. Enjoying the music, I took in the room, whose old wooden walls featured a kind of splayed-out sunbeam arrangement of planks which you can see in the pictures I took of Elliot, who set this show up. Eliot arrived not long after me, sporting a hand-painted button-up shirt that seemed to illustrate the potent nebula of psychedelic folk music that roils within the physical expression that, for lack of a more precise term, we call Eliot Eidelman. This was the first time we’d seen each other in about 6 years – about the same with Aaron from last night because we all got to know each other in the short period of time when I lived in California. Eliott is a fascinating songwriter, extremely prolific, extremely true to the individuality of his expression, and also interested in exploring unknown possibilities of song forms and lyrical themes.

After catching up a bit and remembering how light blue Eliot’s Eyes are we set up for this show: Eliott had brought an oblong card table for our merch. He even had a pretty Mexican blanket for a tablecloth. We set up all of our beautiful items and traded a couple of things. Little did we know we would sell nothing, despite the charming display. Somewhere along the road, I think in New Mexico, I bought a votive candle at a grocery store to burn at shows and such, It’s for a child saint who protects travelers. Once everything was ready, guitar tuned and amp set right, and the small but so beautiful crowd seemed settled on the arrangement of secondhand couches and chairs in the room, I went around and asked people if they had a lighter or match to light my candle. Nobody had one except ______ an older gentleman with a salt-and-pepper beard and a big old coat.

Big Kitty started off this show, again being introduced successively by Rolly and Roy. Rolly sang “Angel Horse” and Roy did “Healthy & Great” which is an unreleased song. I’m not sure why exactly but this introduction just didn’t seem to work as well as it had the previous two times. I felt less capable of hitting the mark with the characters, perhaps I was too worried about the crowd’s reaction; they seemed a bit tired, and I had just talked to them all, when I asked them to light my candle, because ______, the only person capable of lighting the candle, was also the last person left to ask in the room.

I”ve been trying to make my performances into a seamless stream of poetry and song but the transitions are often elusive – and the transitions are crucial. Moving between a traditional guitar-strumming song, a stage banter persona of questionable sanity, and an unaccompanied free-verse sung poem has been a challenge. I did remember to record this show, which is great because I’m playing and singing the songs better at this point. I’m hoping to make a live compilation album at the end of the tour, with all the best moments I managed to record. I wish I had recorded all the concerts up till now because there have been so many wonderful moments.

Eliott played second. While I played on the stage, he was going to play to the side, because he would be switching between an upright piano and guitar. He also had a Korg drum machine that he used for some songs, and which was plugged into the amp I’m borrowing from William and placed on top of the piano. I think Eliot must have already written a thousand songs, The well seems infinite and his creativity is boundless. I think his songwriting has gotten better and better and is definitely no less wild than it ever was. Before we played he mentioned that he’d just watched A Face in the Crowd, starring Andy Griffith. I have seen that movie and liked it, plus the Andy Griffith Show was one of the primary reruns I grew up on (and I did have a Don Knotts T-shirt that I wore regularly). In that movie, Andy Griffith’s character addresses a monologue to his guitar, on the subject of why he prefers having it to having a lover. Eliot remembered the monologue and gave it as part of his performance, which was hilarious. I also appreciated that he sang an a cappella (with body percussion) song that was actually a beautiful love song with a hippied-out, gross-out human-body take on the building songs like “The Green Grass Grows All Around” or “The Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly.” He also set William Carlos Williams’s poem “Danse Russe” to music – and I had just happened to re-find that poem recently…Eliot dedicated it to all the fathers present, because the main image of the poem is of a mother and child sleeping in one room while the father dances naked in front of a mirror in another room. Then, he did a very unusual cover of Nirvana’s “Come as you are” that made me listen to the lyrics in a much deeper way than I ever had. They bend time in a heartbreaking way.

The whole night was actually pretty awkward. I don’t know why – but most of the audience, which was small to begin with, did not remain at the end. I know this was not for a lack of gusto on the performers’ part, because there was a lot of energy coming off the stage all night long. Maybe it was an excess of gusto. I did not let this hurt my mood, which has felt a bit muted lately, because, I think, of feeling overwhelmed by the constant changes and meeting either new people or catching up with old friends not seen in several years. But my mood is also quite great, I feel so lucky to be able to perform almost every night. It’s very fulfilling to connect with people on an emotional level with music, presence, poetry, and occasionally dance. The most common reaction I’ve gotten on this tour is that people get a mixture of sad and funny, like “touching” – that’s great. Most any reaction is great, compared to no reaction. But some are worse!

At the end of the night we cleared out and got in our cars – I would follow Eliot to his tiny house in the nearby mountains. We passed directly through a “Road Closed” barrier and drove for a few miles down a winding and partially-destroyed road including the massive puddle known as “The Lake” to arrive at Eliot’s place in total darkness (it was probably around midnight). Eliot had told me that they had an outdoor bath that they can fill with water from a natural hot spring. I followed him by cell phone light through the unpredictable shapes and contours of a constantly-evolving homestead, including multiple scarecrows and half-realized sculptures. It was a cold, windy night, I would guess about 43º Fahrenheit. Eliot got in the water first and I asked him doubtfully if it really were warm. He sad it was really hot, 107 degrees. I got in, and it felt fantastic. I’d been really cold before. Now my temperature was rising, I was smelling the intense but surprisingly good sulfuric odor of the water, and looking up at a tall silhouette of a mountain with stars overhead – a view very similar to the one where I live. I really can’t describe how good this felt after not quite realizing how much nervous tension I’d accumulated over the tour so far.

It was interesting talking to Eliot in the total darkness, when I couldn’t see his face, because he seemed like a different person, or maybe less defined, in such a way that I could hardly remember who he was. At this point, in the middle of the tour, I am recognizing some profound changes in myself. Yesterday, in Los Angeles, I completely forgot where I was for a moment – what city am I in? Of course, as I wrote about that particular house and neighborhood, they could have been located in any state in the country – though the abundant lemon tree in the yard would change for a fig or a pear or something. I’m a little disappointed in how I feel, because I’ve been so graced with freshness and novelty that I’ve grown desensitized to it, and it takes an extra step – which requires some but not much effort, it’s a little intimidating before you do it, but once you’ve done it you realize it was easy, and that step is just looking directly at yourself and what you’re doing and admitting that it is great, that it’s beyond greatness, wonder, and fear and that every moment is potentially your moment of return after all seemed irretrievably lost, that every moment of life is the last scenes of A Christmas Carol.

After the soak, we made our way back to Eliot’s tiny house and got into bed. While changing into sweat pants, I noticed that my legs were bright pink and very sensitive, as if they were sunburned. It must have been an allergic reaction to the sulfuric water. Eliot helped me turn the shower on. It was a very particular and complicated method of turning on a shower. Having seen it only once, I would not be able to replicate it. I soaped and washed my body as quickly as possible and got back into my pyjamas. There was no immediate improvement, but by the morning all was back to normal. The sun was shining very brightly on the mountains facing the house and there was a big, clear window right in front of the guest bed where I was sleeping (a tiny, but welcomiing house!). This was just like yesterday, when I slept in the studio – there was a big window and the southern California heaven light came through like angelic trumpets announcing daybreak, against which I defended myself with blankets around the head.

When I awoke I found myself looking directly out at the sharp, crisp dry but green semi-desert mountains and blue, blue sky. I said I felt like I was just being born, the light was so bright, it was like the first time I’d seen any at all. It took a lot of eye-rubbing to let it in. I found Eliot reading a copy of East of Eden he’d checked out from the library and told him I was going to meditate and he could do it with me if he wanted. He accepted — the first person to meditate with me on the tour. We sat in two standard black folding chairs on his deck, he in his bathrobe, me in my sweatpants, and faced the sun with eyes closed in silence for twenty minutes. This might have been during the solar eclipse, because I never noticed anything different with the sun, though that supposedly happened on this day.


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