March 21, 2000
P.O. Box 12078
Cincinnati, OH 45212
It’s all greek to me.
There may come a day when it is not enough to touch you with words. In the meantime, I choose them carefully and recklessly. I look for the curves and the pulse in the language and try to wrap something around you that will warm you and cause your soul to arc, your spirit to spark.
Yours and mine, God knows.
Look deep down your hollow belly inside and ask yourself in the dark if it’s true: does any of this really make any difference at all?
Is the skin that separates your beating heart from mine really just the smoothest kind of barbed wire?
Wait. Just how alone are we anyway?
So what if I dream about keeping a journal with you? Would that make me your audience and you mine? We would write our secret universes within and so far only love can make me lift a pen anyway.
So here goes.
You have to pick up the pen and move it, she whispers.
You have to leave a crumbtrail of words or you’ll never find your way back. You have to step out into the words a hungry orphan and hold hands with someone along the way. You have to be as good to words as you know how and some night when you least expect it you’ll find them being good to you. Even later you’ll learn to trick yourself into believing someone cares.
She looks away. Oh yeah, one more thing. Inspiration comes afterward, not before.
And this is the story of how my life became a true story.
It’s me Oh Lord again and Jesus we are off to quite a start here, aren’t we? Talk about “ripping handfuls of pages from …memoirs and calling it music.” I’m up here in the attic of the Grey Ghost, the rest of the house is asleep, and I’m looking out the window on an unremarkable morning, stunned. I have found the secret of eternal life. I now know how I want to live and it’s so obvious I don’t know if I should risk telling you this secret or not, but I will. Before I can talk myself down.
I am going to die.
These few words, if I embrace them, will tell me what I must do with this gift of too-large life I’ve been given. Oh, but it’s so hard to hear. I have to practice.
I am going to die. I, am going to die.
All of us here on this sweet terrain are terminal. I hold these words close and I am free.
I’m thirty-five, so by the law of averages I figure my life is half over. Half of my life is virgin soil, untouched by any plow. Amazing. I was given a garden and I’ve only tilled up half of it. I was given a day, and the entire night remains intact, unlived. I was given a woman and she is only half undressed. The bottle of wine, half empty. The book, half written.
The desire to write burns in me now like the burning bush Moses encountered in the wilderness: it burns in me always but is not consumed. I want to leave behind some token of gratitude for the time here on earth I was given. I want to tell my version of what it was like to be part of this family we call humanity. I want to say, Hey, I saw that. (Did anyone else?) It’s one of the few gifts I can imagine giving to myself. It’s one of the few gifts I can imagine giving to others.
Half over? And now life ups the ante and says, I am dimensional and careening and full of surprises. No man or woman knows me. No man or woman knows the day or the hour when the needle lifts from a particular spinning life, when the music ceases quite suddenly to play audibly. All quiet.
In other words, I can’t say for sure that I’ve only travelled half the distance. I may be farther along and further in than I know. So to live a good day is to live that day as if it were my last. This key can unlock the double-bolted door of what it means to be truly alive. Or as my friend Jack is prone to say, It’s our last night on earth. Again.
So yes, somedays I flounder and lay about in the mud like a hog on valium. And I don’t know why some days are so hard to redeem, to cash in. God looks down and says, This one’s on me son. Enjoy. It’s the gift of a brand new day or night and you’d think I’d make love to this day and we’d ride off into the sunset together, and I’d lean over and say, I’ll never forget you. Ever.
But maybe the day sits yawning out in the car while I’m standing in line at the bank with a fistfull of unpaid bills. Or the wistful new day walks in and her skin is glowing, she’s lighting up the whole world and I’m thinking about filing my taxes, one of the cats just threw up, and the answering machine is full, blinking. The day wants to be swept off her feet and sometimes the best I can come up with is surfing the channels in some hotel room, half awake. Or maybe the day whispers, I came all this way for you, and it’s a drive-thru for dinner?
But when I hold the given words close, which I do now increasingly, I become a student of life. I am given clues always now, and I try to listen. And the mundane begins to bleed together into a larger sense of purpose which I continue to discover. Somedays I choose wisely, the hours are my lovers and I am heartened. The rest of the time, I forgive myself and try to smile. I am going to die. But I’m also going to live for awhile.
OK, I should probably rein it in a bit now. This is an announcement list after all, so I should announce things. (Other than, I am going to…) But I’m addicted to giving you the best that I know how. I polish this string of five and dime pearls until they shine, get my courage up, walk across the playground and hand them to you, hoping for the best.
Maybe this is how my father felt after pouring his heart out in the pulpit like a bottle of perfume to the little church full of coal-miners in Fairpoint, Ohio. He steps back after the benediction like a blind man who has seen the face of God and lived, his soul raw and trembling but somehow strangely quieted and at rest. The sanctuary is still as a tomb. Somebody walks forward, turns around, and says, Are there any announcements?
Bubbles had a seizure again last Tuesday. The youth will roast wieners before the softball game. The women’s sewing circle is having a potluck.
I’ll ease into it.
Starting with a few books… On Michael Wilson’s recommendation, I picked Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis off the shelf. I had been having trouble falling asleep after the tour ended. Wrong book to pick up before bedtime. I read until 5am, mouth agape. It has entered my short list of Most Important Books I Have Known. A rending document of utter loss and redemption. “Pleasure for the beautiful body, suffering for the beautiful soul…” Highly recommended. Am finishing Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Looking forward to hearing her speak at the writers’ festival at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan next week. I expect to smile a lot. (Karin finished Travelling Mercies and praises it often.) (Karin and I will be performing after Anne’s talk.) Also looking forward happily to seeing Maya Angelou perform again. There is no other word for what she does. She’s a one-woman greatest show on earth.
Karin and I arrived home safely after sitting in again with Cowboy Junkies on their Winter Waltz, and doing more recording with them in Toronto. The daffodils are in bloom here in Ohio, although the weather has turned chilly. We managed to steal time to perform as Over the Rhine quite often while we were on the road. (Thanks to those of you who were able to look us up.) We enjoyed our trip to Seattle and Spokane, and loved playing in all those record stores here and there, little living room concerts.
And overtherhine.com has sprouted just in time for Spring. It has been fun watching this garden grow. We anticipate adding to it significantly, but it’s a good point of departure for what we envision. Stop by. We welcome your feedback.
This summer, my old roommate from college will be working with me to transcribe many of the Over the Rhine songs that have become your friends in recent years. We will be developing a library of music which will be freely available at overtherhine.com. Those so inclined, will be able to print out copies of this new music and accompany themselves at a piano, or flesh out the songs with an acoustic guitar on the tailgate of a pickup truck out West. We’ve received hundreds of requests for printed music for songs like Rhapsodie, Little Genius, Paul and Virginia, Latter Days, Poughkeepsie, Weak In the Knees Across the Sky, Moth, June etc. We are finally getting around to addressing this need.
There’s also a blank canvas alongside each recording at overtherhine.com where we invite listeners like you to submit your reviews of songs and albums. It often occurs to us that in the letters we receive, our music is discussed more intelligently and in-depth than it sometimes is when professionals review the recordings. If a song has made a deep impression on you, or you feel one recording stands out as the definitive OtR work to date, please take some time to share your thoughts and impressions. We feel our listeners’ insights will be of interest to many. Including us. We’ve received a few submissions and are anticipating many more. Help us tell the story. Remember, the people here are not shy.
There’s also a little out of the way place at overtherhine.com called Over the Radio. In this room there is a list of the radio stations currently playing the Virgin/Backporch re-release of Good Dog Bad Dog. Tune in and roll down the car window. Spring is coming. Most of the Backporch campaign has focused on college radio so far, but this will be broadening in coming weeks. If your favorite station isn’t listed, consider giving them a call. Or e-mail us and we’ll have Virgin follow up.
We’ve been fairly pleased with Virgin/Backporch so far. They recently surprised us by announcing the impending release of a compilation which contains All I Need is Everything. Other contributors include Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, John Lennon, Crowded House, Cowboy Junkies–Hello! You can go to the site for more info which will be posted soon. Starbucks licensed several songs for in-store air-play and people have been commenting on hearing Over the Rhine while they contemplate the day’s caffeine rush. And the release date for the new Over the Rhine recording has been set: September 12, 2000. The days promise to be quite full, and we may not be able to be in touch as often as we would like, so if you want to keep your finger on our pulse, overtherhine.com will be the place.
Finally, the most practical reason the website exists is to let you know when we can be together. When dates are confirmed we forward them to our webmaster and they magically appear the next morning. One date that was confirmed this morning may merit a special invitation.
Over the Rhine will be taping another segment for CBS This Morning (now called The Early Show) on April 5th in Manhattan. CBS would like to invite an audience to be a part of the performance this time, and if weather permits, we are going to play outdoors around noon in a courtyard/plaza that holds about 150 people. (There is no charge to be part of the audience.) We’ll post more details on the site as they become available. Join us if you can for this foray into television sets around the country.
More importantly perhaps, that same evening, (Wednesday, April 5th), Over the Rhine will be performing at a small off-Broadway theater in New York City called The Lambs Theater, at 130 West 44th Street between 6th and Broadway. (“The Lamb Goes Down Easy on Broadway.”) Doors 7:30pm, Show 8:00pm, Tickets $15 at the door. (General Admission, all ages welcome.)
Karin and I have increasingly been contemplating living for a time in New York City. It is a city which you can positively become drunk on. You lift the glass, the wine runs red out of the corners of your mouth and down your neck and there is laughter.
We have learned to open our arms to the palpable energy of this place. We walk into the Met and everything changes. The subway pulls into Grand Central Station and something dies and is born again that we can’t put into words. These waves of beautiful people pouring down Park Avenue–the city is being washed clean by the broken and renewed dreams of the many who are called here, and the few who are chosen. And we are adrift in this tide of humanity, unmoored and reeling. We are Americans in New York. And we dream of playing in this city more often.
Kiss an April day full on the mouth and join us in America’s greatest city for an evening of music which promises a voice in full-bloom, earthy music crying out for roots in this weedy, overgrown world we love with our lives. (Some of us are born better lovers than others. Some of us long to be reborn so that we can love better.)
I think that’s about it. There’s a Weimaraner waiting for her run.
I long to hear these words sung, flung at the sky by a real set of lungs. I hope to see you.
In the meanwhile, live a little.
Still skinny as sin,
P.S. As I write this, nearing the end, I receive two phone calls, one from our office, one from Ric Hordinski. A friend of ours, Gene Eugene (Andrusco), died unexpectedly in his sleep. (He couldn’t have been much older than I am, I think to myself.) I don’t know what to make of this sad news. Gene fronted his own band, Adam Again, which was never widely recognized in the world at large. I saw people dance to this band after midnight who were so lost in the music that they couldn’t have told you their own names, tears of joy stinging their eyes. Gene recorded and mixed a handful of Over the Rhine songs on eve: Should, Sleep Baby Jane, Birds, June, Bothered.
Gene, we only know that we must follow sooner or later. Thank you for the gifts you gave us. The Cuyahoga River on fire…
Farewell for now.