3/24/2024 : Athens, GA

The drive from Asheville to Athens was a breeze. I’ve never driven this route before, but it was beautiful and full of interesting sights. You pass through South Carolina, which was a little surprising to me. South Carolina is a state that I have not much experience with, know very little about. Of course the country I drove through, between from North to South Carolina and then to Georgia, looked not remarkably different on all the other sides of the borders. Just beautiful everywhere.

I stopped at a Walgreen’s to find some razor blades. I use a Safe-T Razor which takes just the old-fashioned razor blades which are kind of hard to find, but I found some here. Then I made myself my tour special: peanut butter on some of that thin, Scandinavian bread, and meditated. I’ve been meditating twice a day and so far in the tour it’s been done in the rental car several times. I love meditating, and it’s helping me stay grounded in the great confusion of the beginning of this tour.

I put the address of the venue into my navigator and, to my surprise, never entered the town of Athens but wound up at, as Chris Acker called it, an “office mall” in a rural zone. At first I thought I’d ended up at the wrong spot, but then remembered that I had been here before several years ago, when I visited Dave Barbey’s studio, which is also in this building. This venue is called Bolo Bolo. Inside I met Nathan McGee, who had asked me to play in Athens about two years ago, and here I am, finally able to swing it – of course in the altered, but not diminished, state of having a severely weakened voice. Some warm welcomes and introductions followed. Hamlin was running the show, and I learned he spoke French. We had a little French conversation that made me realize that French also sounds like home to me. He’s done some interesting projects in Switzerland involving using the piano as an art object. Nathan’s band included two beautiful folks by the name of Jack and Jake as well as Charlie.

I headed back outside to load in my things and saw Chris Acker. We had a nice meeting. I was of course electrified by the presence of a VHS copy of Naked Gun in his possession – one of my foundational works of art. I recently rewatched these movies with Yuri and Naoko, and found that the first one is still really funny. The other installments I would recommend only to die-hard fans.

So a brief description of this show: Jay Gonzalez opened, solo guitar with great melodies. His last song blew my mind: he hung a small keyboard on his guitar and played a melody on it while he strummed the guitar. That seemed extremely difficult to play but it sounded heavenly. Next Chris played, and I know a lot of his songs and really loved seeing him live. His songs are great, funny and human and with such a good eye for detail and rhythm.

Then I played – oh no, what should I do? Well, I knew I wanted to transcend myself in an unpredictable way so I just started in like the Fool on his journey. I tried singing the falsetto song again and it didn’t work out nearly so well. So I made fun of myself and did some other things, including some Accompanyments, some contests for the audience, and another dance moment. I gave out some Reese’s Eggs as prize. Love those things, but I don’t actually eat them myself these days, because of my throat issues. I’m also thankful to these because they make it necessary not to drink any alcohol, which makes every day start better.

Anyway, I continued on, and there were some really great moments, and then there were some moments when I felt like a bumbling idiot, when that fragile balance I was talking about before “fell in the water.” The concert was recorded, which I think you’ll be able to hear on the venue’s Patreon page. But I would really like to hear it too, because it went through so many phases and stages that I have trouble piecing it all back together again. I think that there’s something good in that. In any case, I feel like I learn a lot every time I play.

Chris had mentioned he had a dog in his car. Oh boy. I wanted to see that dog. The opportunity presented itself as we were going home. Doug is a very adorable, small pit bull. White and gray. He was sure happy to get outside.

I stayed over with my friend Matte Cathcart and Del (a recipient of a coveted Reese’s Egg at the show) and we talked and had tea and listened to the new ADD/C album, Ordinary Souls. It’s fantastic, I highly recommend that. Matte has a good old dog named Charlie who I got to pet. I slept well on his couch, under a big landscape painting and the loving gaze of a stuffed clown and monkey.

3/23/24 : Asheville, North Carolina

3/23 Asheville

Driving into Asheville I was listening to the Nick Cave and Sean O’Hagan conversation-book called Faith, Hope and Carnage. No comment on that except there are some great moments on it.

This was an easy and familiar drive, from Knoxville to Asheville, though I followed a detour through some special places, and saw some beautiful sights of mountain scenery, crazy yards and off-kilter country businesses. The town of Newport, Tennessee seemed interesting. I went through without stopping, though I would have liked to have spent a minute there looking around. Later on I passed through Hot Springs, where Yuri and I stopped on our 2009-2010 tour, the last tour I did that was this long. We went to the hot springs there and camped nearby. I saw a vending machine advertising LIVE BAIT with such great fish art that I convinced myself to take a moment, walk around and notice some stuff. That’s the life I want to live, the one where walking around noticing stuff with a fairly empty mind is possible. So that was a good moment.

Everytime I come to play at Static Age there are new developments and improvements. Jesse, who owns the place, amazes me with his future visions, by which I mean the way he can imagine things evolving in his record store and venue and then make those visions into reality with his own hands. These days there’s a second venue next door to Static Age, where I played last night: the Static Age loft.
A beautiful little bar and restaurant.

A pair of double names were involved in the show this night: Adam (vibraphone) and Adam (some befuddlingly cool electronic gear with lots of patch cables) and Jesse (singer-songwriter) and Jesse (owns place). I loved hearing Devyn, Adam and Adam’s beautiful explorations of loud and wavy dreamscapes. Jesse & the Jinx sang extremely gorgeous country music. And there were records spinning the best music, from George Jones to Peter Stubb to crazy novelty songs I just couldn’t keep track of. There was a group of designers who made some psychedelic fried-egg backdrop that glowed under blacklights. If I find out what they’re called, I’ll add their name in later. They also made a nifty miniature skating rink that was on display in the entry.

The weather in Asheville turned horribly cold, with strong winds. I didn’t want that wind to touch me at all, especially my ailing throat. But there was no way around it, just had to plow right through the center of it. My voice is still gone, my throat still so tender. I’m just trying to stay OK and disciplined about talking as little as possible. It’s a taste of what it would feel like to be mute. Because in a noisy environment, there’s no way to make myself heard at all. So I have to mime like Harpo Marx and it feels embarrassing and fun. I can tell some people think I’m being rude at first, then I have to insist that I just can’t speak, write messages on paper, and they understand after that. On the whole, I feel much more comfortable being around people than I used to. That makes me feel good.

This show, I felt quite nervous about again. I guess that always happens, but I do feel differently about performing these days. I just want to give everything I have in the moment, and it’s not always clear how to do that. It’s similar to meditation I think, where there’s a struggle at attaining a blissful, autonomous center, which is a very finicky balance between effort and non-effort. But my performances also require memorization and planning, they’re only partially improvised. So in the lead-up to this concert I was trying to enter into the structures of what this performance would be, each element of it, and remember how to navigate all these twisted pathways of often nonsensical words.

Everything felt pretty great at this show. My voice is still horrible, just absolutely horrible, which is fantastic in a way, because it’s forcing me to do everything differently. I’ve never been a “quiet music” singer – always sang loud and I feel more comfortable that way. Now I’m forced to almost kiss the microphone and sing softly. I started off singing a falsetto tune, which I knew was a crazy idea, but the falsetto part of my voice seems somehow intact. This was pretty rough, but I hope in a nice way.

I also did a couple things I’d never done before, a new sort of poem and a story told to radio noise. The story seemed pretty long, but I feel people connected with it, because some people told me so afterwards. At one point, to break up the slow tempos and very relaxed energy, I just put my guitar down and did a wild, high-energy floor-slapping dance.

It was great seeing Joe Chang from Gold Light – we played a show together at Static Age about 6 or 7 years ago with Skyway Man and Josephine Foster. I loved meeting and talking to Joe and Josephine that night.

At the end of the night, around 2 or 3 AM in the intense cold, my car was blocked in by some people who were trying to get their Jeep jumped. I couldn’t help because I rented a hybrid car. I felt sorry for them out there in the cold. They said, “don’t worry, someone’s coming for us.” I managed to get out of the parking spot and Jesse led me to his house. Well the place where he put me up is practically a hotel room, separate from his house. I believe he rents it out on Airbnb. It was pretty luxurious to sleep in a king-size bed, though it’s hard to sleep with all these mixed-up times and worries about my voice coming back. Jesse gave me some really nice, very thick Chinese throat syrup that feels great on my throat. He’s so generous, so kind, and someone I always feel comfortable around even though we’ve seen each other just a few times.

That’s all for now. I’m about to head to Athens, Georgia to meet up with Chris Acker for a couple of shows.

Tour Diary: 3/22/24 – Knoxville, Tennessee

Knoxville

Next day in Chattanooga the reality of my lost voice sank in. I could barely talk. I looked up an article on my phone, how do you quickly recover your voice? The response was, there is no way, you pathetic asshole. You have to stay hydrated and wait a week or two. Soon after I spoke to James Wallace on the telephone, who reminded me of the extraordinary recording session that we’ve planned, which is coming up in just a few days in New Orleans. I stared at the Downers’ guppy tank as we spokem saying a sort of prayer that I could have something of my singing voice back by that time. The Downers were again very thoughtful and generous. Emalaya did some research and found me a non-alcohol based tincture for respiratory health that includes several herbs that could help. She gave me some bags of herbal tea and some CBD-infused honey as well. I couldn’t believe the generosity and felt healed just by the thoughtfulness and care shown me. Page equipped me with a bath towel and a coffee mug to take on my trip. The coffee mug has chickadees on the sides, birds that make me think of home and Yuri’s birdhouse gourds hanging on the window, that’s full of chickadees all the time. Also of the Carolina Chickadee which has a song I loved when I was growing up in Tennessee and that I heard as I left Knoxville earlier today.

 

I had some bumper stickers made which I had sent to the Downers’ house, but except for a very small few, they came in late and so I don’t have them. It’s a shame because they are very funny and I was really looking forward to having them at my shows. Hopefully they’ll make their way here soon.

 

On the way to Knoxville from Chattanooga, feeling the stress of having basically lost my voice, I kept the car silent, except for the squeaking windshield wipers. I felt like I needed rest, and so I took the most restful approach to what I was doing. This gave me some space to think of what I would do onstage for Big Ears. I had a couple of ideas for spoken bits, which I rehearsed in my head, sparing my voice. And I wouldn’t be able to sing anything with high notes–fortunately some of my new songs are slow and relatively low-pitched. Voilà, somehow, as often happens, some shape of an idea came to me. It included one of the chocolate hearts (strawberry cream) and, at the last minute, as I was eating a piece of celery, I was struck by how pretty the celery stalk looked. I put it in my coat pocket. People I didn’t know kept commenting on it. It was great. I decided to eat celery onstage as part of the performance. That somehow made things seem more comfortable to me.

I was greeted warmly by a lot of familiar faces and friends at the Pilot Light. It’s an amazing place, that has totally altered my life. I was really lucky to grow up nearby in Maryville and get to see mind-blowing and wide-ranging performances there. To get to play there a huge privilege to me. I always want to do something good and try to give everything I can to any performance, but perhaps even more so there. I was definitely sorry to have such a handicap coming into this show but had faith that some kind of alternate path would present itself. As it happened, I took it slowly and sang quietly. I almost cracked myself up singing, as I realized how my laryngitis-weakened vocal cords sounded a lot like Bob Dylan’s recent vocal style. I’ve been obsessed with his Sinatra-style singing and it felt good singing that way. It was also easy to access really profoundly sad feelings, Whenever you lose some ability that you’re used to having, even if temporary, it feels very sad.

 

After I was finished, I had the great pleasure of finally seeing Earwig Deluxe perform. As I was breaking down my set-up he came on stage in the most glorious costume, just glowing like a deity. I looked at him transfixed and said, “You look like – a god!” His performance was really great, my favorite part being a song in perhaps Esperanto or perhaps not any language, when the dramatic lighting made me really believe was a god. It was awesome in the true sense of the word.

 

After his performance I decided to take a walk, though it was raining. I made it about one quarter of a block, just to see the bright lights of Central Street, then felt satisfied and returned to the venue where Ed Shrader’s Music Beat were performing. This was my first time seeing them live, though I had seen video a long time ago fo Ed Shrader hosting a talk show as part of the Baltimore scene of the early 2000s that I was inspired by at the time. Playing as a duo, with only a floor tom, vocals, and bass guitar, they made the earth quake. It was a moving performance, with sincere exhortations mixed with wisecracks. Later on, watching Steve Gigante playing his legendarily beat-to-shit guitar, Maggie Brannon, and incredible drummer Greg Saunier from the merch table (also terribly fantastic!) in the back of the venue beside Ed, I drew a picture of him (very rough!) and wrote a note saying I loved his performance. Because I could not speak over the music. I was surprised at how he was so into the picture, and how he was so positive and friendly. We both ended up spending the night at Jason’s house so we got time to meet each other with the bass player Devlin, who is so funny and smart. I was really thankful for how energetic and verbose he was because I didn’t want to talk at all. Plus he kept making me laugh. We showed each other pictures of our pets. I’m so happy to have met them and also Cassie who let me into Jason’s house when I was fading towards the end of the night. It was much later than I should have gone to sleep, around 3:30 in the morning, but I was able to sleep for about 8 hours, thankfully, and hope to be on the way to recovering. Now I’m in Asheville, ready to play at the Static Age Loft. More later.

Tour Diary: 3/21/24

Three days ago I flew to Nashville from France. In one day I drank water from France, London, New York, and Nashville.

My brother Brad picked me up and hosted me at his place in Nashville for two nights. We had a memorial service for his departed cat, Beau and our mother Sarah and we had a nice family reunion time.

Yesterday, my very kind mother Sarah drove me from Nashville to Chattanooga. On the way we stopped at the Russell Stover chocolate store in Manchester. They offer candy from passed holidays at half price. I picked up a few Valentine’s hearts and a semi-solid chocolate turkey. You are going to need these things.

In Chattanooga we drove through the perennial highway construction to the Brainerd area where I rented a Toyota Corolla hybrid car from a very laid-back fellow named Norman. This is a name that appears in my song “Scarecrow”: “I stuffed the straw into Norman’s khaki pants and striped shirt.”  Norman’s car will be my tour vehicle for the next month and a half.

I then went to visit my friend William Johnson (Heavy Comforter) who lent me a guitar and amplifier that I’ll use throughout the tour. It’s a 70s era Yamaha acoustic. It plays great and has a big sound. He also lent me a Vox amp that we used to use in the old Big Kitty band. if you see it on tour you’ll see that it has lived. 

The first show of the Tour was at the Woodshop, a new-to-me venue in St Elmo, which is a neighborhood of Chattanooga where I lived for a few years. I loved living there and would have loved to have this place nearby at the time. It’s a nice, wood-forward hang out with a bar, tables and couches focused toward a performance area with piano and organ. This show was hosted by Alex Volz and also included my old friend Matt Bohannon. Alex started the show with some really funny songs. My favorite: a chapter of a long narrative about an old man and a Chihuahua with an ornate guitar prelude. Matt Bohannon then set the world on fire with his Wildcat lightning bolt songs. Then it was my turn, uh oh. But as often happens, though I feel trepidation getting onstage I let go and something else takes control. We all played Matt’s really well set-up Silvertone acoustic guitar and the sound was clear. My college professor and great poet Rick Jackson and his wife Terri were there, which touched me very deeply and made me a bit more nervous than usual, which Rick found ridiculous. It was so good to see them.

I had booked two shows for the first night, the second being at JJ’s Bohemia, a venue I have been playing for 17 years now. It’s always great to return there. Because the Woodshop show went a bit late, I didn’t arrive until about 11:30, as another old friend, Johni Acorn, was finishing up his set. He was playing with a bass player and a drummer and the sound was fantastic. I’ve always loved his songs and it was good to see him in upbeat mood sporting a brightly colored Mexico baseball cap. The crowd was quite small at JJ’s, probably due to the lateness of the hour, and I felt almost like it was the first time I played as Big Kitty on that stage, when I performed in much the same way that I did today–singing unsettling a capella songs mixed with  guitar-based songs. But this time I noticed I was getting hoarse, and over the course of the show it got worse. I was very tired also and had trouble remembering things, as a result of being jetlagged and overextending myself. At the same time, I loved playing this show because I felt very free to improvise and make up songs on the spot. The very nice bartender requested “Tracy Chapman,” so I made up a song about Tracy Chapman and chapstick. And I liked how my voice sounded raspy. I could still sing falsetto also, which was surprising. But at the end of the night I began to realize it might be serious and I stopped playing around 1:30 in the morning. 

Matt and Page Downer hosted me at their house, another place that gives me a sense of home. They offered me some CDB infused honey which soothed my throat. I petted their dog and watched their cats watching me warily. Now I’m waking up there and writing this first entry in the tour diary, which glosses over the million details I would ideally like to share. 

But you can see a pattern here of generosity and love from a lot of people who make up a family to me. Chattanooga is a place that feels like home to me.

Announcing: Big Kitty TV!

Big Kitty TV’s episode 1 will soon be premiering: tonight at 9PM EST/8 CST/6 PST and 3AM in France (désolé !)

Big Kitty’s thrilling new excursion into television is perhaps the most exciting and revolutionary moment in world history. Or, perhaps it isn’t. Whatever your opinion may be, this is a savory offering from the Big Kitty universe, including new songs and performances, stories, and a variety of personalities appearing onscreen. We hope you enjoy, and if you do, we ask you to tell a friend you think would enjoy watching to tune in to this grand endeavor. Witness the wonder below, via YouTube.

 

Books!

The cover of BOOK by Big Kitty
This is the cover of Rebecca Or, Promise Punished by Big Kitty
The cover of Elements of Betty by Big Kitty

Three books are now available from Big Kitty – most recently BOOK, a tale of not finding one’s way through life, and the two earlier books REBECCA, OR PROMISE PUNISHED and ELEMENTS OF BETTY.

You can order these books by mail by sending $5 per book plus $5 shipping (from France). Below is a handy pricing chart:

1 title … $10

2 titles … $15

3 titles … $20

Be sure to include a note specifying which titles you wish to receive and make sure the mailing address is correct. Also write if you would like a certain dedication.

If you’re going to come to a concert, you can buy them there! As long as I have some left. And there aren’t very many, actually! But there will definitely be some in Chattanooga on October 27th!

John Lennon’s birthday

Today would be John Lennon’s 83rd birthday. Sure wish he was still walking this Earth. He’s the singer that I most imitated as a kid. I don’t want to write too much about him, there’s already so much there. But I do get sad thinking about how he died.

Are unknown things recorded somewhere? Like, for example, future events? And among future events, the way each one of us will die? Because now that we know how John Lennon died, we can look back at his life with that knowledge overlaid. I think about him as a kid, making up words to rock and roll songs, never knowing what was coming.

New album: Accompanyments 2

Accompanyments 2 will officially come out on 4 August 2023! This is an album of searching, wandering, lonely songs sung in nature. I hope it takes you somewhere.

In anticipation of this release, I hereby announce, there shall be two internet events:

2 August 2023 at 7PM Europe / 6PM UK / 2PM Eastern / 11AM Pacific: A video for “inside the fellows of the moon” one of the twenty-three songs on Accompanyments 2. This video was filmed by the inspiring Naoko Williams, 9 years old. The version of the song is different from the album, being sung extemporaneously every time.  Accompanyments are never the same twice. The video premier will happen on my YouTube channel.

4 August 2023 at 8PM Europe / 7PM UK / 3PM Eastern / 12PM Pacific: An album listening party on my Bandcamp page. If you come, you can listen to the whole album with me and whoever else might show up, and we’ll have a live chat about it as it happens. Note: this album will only be available on Bandcamp.