Road Trip Days 17-19

My second day in Gainesville was a whirlwind of meeting various people for breakfast, lunch, coffee, dinner, or drinks. I did reconnect with several friends that I haven’t seen in a very long time: former Squeaky frontman Harry Monkhorst and his wife Kristin; my very good friend Holly Ray, who was my first roommate in New York; Gary Brummett, who played bass in my old band Eurotoaster and then disappeared off the face of the earth (apparently he was at Durty Nelly’s the whole time–who knew?); another former bandmate Merryl Malter; and the esteemed poet and cookbook mogul Ian Finn. There were a lot of other people on my agenda, but I pretty much made plans on a first-come first-served basis, and I just couldn’t meet up with everybody I wanted to see in one day.

The next day, I was due to  meet another old friend, Corey Thompson Kirkland, in beautiful historic Eufaula, AL. At this point, I had put nearly 3000 miles on my 1998 Volvo station wagon since leaving New York on Dec. 1. And the whole time, I’d been hearing a little rumble from the driver’s side front wheel that I didn’t much like, and I planned to have someone look at it when I was going to be in one place more than two days. But as fate would have it, not long before I pulled into Eufala, the noise got worse–much worse. I called Corey just as I was crossing over the state line from Georgia and said, “Okay I’m driving over Lake Eufaula now. But something is seriously wrong with my car. Is there a mechanic in the metropolitan Eufaula area that you can recommend?”

She directed me to Jac’s, where a very nice mechanic named Keith quickly ascertained that I had a bad wheel bearing and that if I’d driving on it much farther, my wheel would likely have flown off the car. So my timing, as usual, was impeccable. I left the car with Keith overnight, and Corey came to pick me up.

Now I should say that Corey is essentially the queen of Eufaula and knows EVERYBODY, and we got royal treatment everywhere we went. The highlight of the evening, though, was karaoke at a dive bar everyone calls “the airport” because the city air field is literally right behind the bar. This is one of those places where, as the saying goes, they like both kinds of music–Country and Western. Here is a transcript of what ensued when I took the stage for my first song.

Host: Next up we have a city slicker from New York City.

Me: Well, I LIVE in New York City, but I’m not FROM there.

Audience member: You talk like you’re from there.

Despite that awkward beginning, my rendition of “King of the Road” was well received.

Next morning, I picked up my car, which was now running much better, and returned to Birmingham. On the way, I called my friend Warren to firm up plans for the evening. Warren and his wife Tia are friends of mine from New York who just moved down here, and I had promised to take Warren out on the town when I got back.  I picked him up at eight and took him to Marty’s to hear some bluegrass music. Then we met up with my friend Adam Guthrie at Metro Bistro where we heard an acoustic duo play a few songs. And then the three of us went to Bottle Tree to hear some rock and roll bands. So we pretty much ran the gamut of the Birmingham music scene in one night, and a lot of it is kind of a blur. But Warren seemed to have a good time.

Road Trip Day 16

I got to Gainesville, FL in the early afternoon. I lived here from 1994-2001, and I played in a few bands. By the time I left I was feeling a little like a rock star, or at least a big fish in a small pond. And I was thrilled and flattered to find that the town has not forgotten me. This was the first thing I saw when I started walking around.

But more on the Common Grounds show later. First stop was my book signing at Goering’s Book Store.

After the sort of disappointing experience in Dothan, I really didn’t know what to expect. But I was really pleased with the turnout, and the bookstore was happy with it as well. I reunited with several old friends and made a few new ones.

That theme continued at Common Grounds. I was really just overwhelmed with the love. And I was so busy chatting with everybody, I forgot to take any pictures. I’m sure some will show up on Facebook soon enough.

Frog started things off by showing some videos from his trip to New York a couple of months ago. And then the brilliant Tom Miller read some of his famous poems, including possibly the best poem ever written by anyone, “Flea in My Urethra.” This was followed by a rousing set of country dance tunes by Gainesville legend Rob McGregor (and friends). I was seriously honored to have all these talented folks perform at my party.

Finally I took the stage, and things started off well enough until I started taking requests, and then I had trouble remembering some lyrics in a song or two and the chords in another song or two, but it was all in good fun. I’m still reeling a bit from it all.

Road Trip Days 14-15

On Dec. 14, amid tornado watches and flash floods, I rolled into Dothan, Alabama, where I lived from age 10 until I graduated from high school. This picture pretty much tells you all you need to know.

I found old pal Steve G, and we went downtown to find some dinner, stumbling upon a fairly new establishment called R.J. Saxons. There I ran into another old friend Tim Metcalf. We sat at the bar catching up for a couple of hours, and then I headed over to Steve’s to crash.

The next morning was possibly the pinnacle of my literary career. I was interviewed by Ann Varnum on WTVY. The episode will air on Sunday Dec. 27 at 9am. I will be back in Birmingham by then, so I hope all my friends in Dothan will tape this momentous television event and get me a copy of it somehow.

In the afternoon, I had my book signing at Dakota Coffee Works.

Turnout was not as high as I’d hoped, but I did make a couple of unexpected sales. In addition, folks that I didn’t even know that well drove from as far away from Mobile and Santa Rosa Beach, and we all had a fine time hanging out and telling stories around my large unsold pile of books.

After the reading, Tim drove me out to visit a couple of other old friends, Elizabeth and Steve. They live in a cabin out in the woods outside Enterprise, AL. There, more hilarious storytelling ensued and all manner of delicious locally grown foods and home-brewed beverages were consumed by all.

Road Trip Day 13

One of my Birmingham rituals is to eat Indian food with David Clark. It doesn’t always work out that we can get together when I’m in town, but we usually try to arrange it. The last few years, Taj India on Highland Avenue has been our standard destination. The only difference this year was that David brought along his lovely new wife Lira.

David’s brother Adam Clark played bass in one of the first bands I was ever in when I was in 11th grade. In those days, I used to go over to Adam’s house, and David would always be sitting in his room practicing the banjo. Later, when I was at UAB, David was in medical school there, and I got to know him much better. We would sometimes get together to play music, read each other’s short stories, or just to eat dinner. We were both just learning about Indian food then. There was no such thing when we were growing up in Dothan, and the discovery was sort of like opening a portal to a new dimension.

Before dinner, I spent the day just hanging around my parents’ house doing some writing and taking some pictures. My niece and nephew came over for a while. This is Anne Harman.

This is George.

And this is my parents’ dog Maggie.

This is the koi pond in the back yard.

And here are some koi.

Tomorrow I go to Dothan.

Road Trip Day 12

I spent most of the day lingering around all my old haunts in Five Points, seeing what was still around and what was new. Not much has changed actually. Some bars have closed. Some have different names than they used to. But it’s still pretty much the same place. For those of you who aren’t from the Ham, this curious fountain/sculpture is the centerpiece of the area.

As you can imagine, this installation is a little controversial amongst the locals. When I was in PopCanon (1995-2001) I wrote a song about this area called Ice on the Sidewalk. The song starts off about this time that I literally ran across something on the sidewalk that looked like ice, though it was the middle of summer, and when I touched it I realized it was some kind of gelatin. As was my wont in those days, I was kind of high at the time, and this just sort of freaked me out. That is how songs start I guess.

Anyway, I ate lunch with former Pain trombonist Jason Reid at Surin West, and I had a great time catching up with him. After lunch, I paid visits to Charlemagne Records and Golden Temple. These places are all pretty much the same as they were when I was in college, except Charlemagne has more CDs now than it did in 1994.

Then I headed over the hill into Homewood and dropped by the Alabama Booksmith (which btw has signed copies of my book for sale), to say hello. I worked at this store when I was in college, when it was called the Highland Booksmith and at a different location. Despite the dream I had about the store the night before my visit, it had not been overtaken by lizard-like aliens.

That night, for a lark, I went to the Alabama Theatre to see the Alabama Symphony Orchestra pay tribute to the music of Led Zeppelin. Does anyone remember laughter? I do. After the concert, I caught a partial set of some scary good bluegrass at Marty’s. I couldn’t stay long because I had committed to seeing another former Pain member, Stuart McNair, play a set down at the Barking Kudu.

Now the ASO doing Zep was really just silly, and kind of pointless since they actually had a long-haired singer who sounded like Robert Plant and a long-haired guitarist who sounded like Jimmy Page, so the orchestra didn’t really have that much work to do. But I did see some skilled guitar playing at all three venues. Made me feel like I needed to sit down and practice a little.

Road Trip Day 11

On my first full day back in Birmingham, I picked up my friend and former bandmate Brent Stauffer at the pizza place where he works and had a little lunch. Okay, in fact, it was a very BIG lunch–a calzone as large as my head. I had heard that a place called Green Cup Books was the place to go for independent authors like myself. So Brent and I headed over there, hoping to get a couple of books on the shelf and maybe arrange a last-minute reading while I’m in town.  But alas, we found that the place was OUT OF BUSINESS. And recently too because there were still shelves full of books inside.

As long as we were in town, I stopped at Jim Reed Books, which is really more of an antiques and novelty museum than a book store. If you’ve never been to Jim Reed Books and you live in the Birmingham area, GO NOW. I don’t believe there is another place like it in the world.

Jim was kind enough to take a couple of copies of my book on consignment, so somebody please go and buy them. Both copies are signed!

On a side note, I should mention that Jim’s brother is the Reverend Fred Lane, one of the most entertainingly insane musicians you will ever go far out of your way to hear.

After that, I dropped Brent off at his house and went to visit another old bandmate, Tym Cornell. Tym is running a fantastic music studio out of his basement in Roebuck these days, so if you are a musician in Birmingham and need a cheap place to make an album, Tym is your man. He is also quite good with video production.

Tym’s wife Mary made some excellent pasta for dinner, and then I headed downstairs to the studio to listen to some of Tym’s most recent work. One of his current projects is to record an album for our mutual friend George Mostoller, whom I mentioned in a previous post. Somehow, Tym has arranged for some first-class musicians to play on this recording, including bassist extraordinaire Oteil Burbidge. I have never heard George’s music sound so good.

More later…

Road Trip Days 8-10

Oxford, MS is Mecca, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s been far too long since my last pilgrimage there. Naturally, my first stop was Square Books, where, I’m quite thrilled to announce, my book is now on the shelf. It was a shitty rainy day, though, so I hunkered down at High Point Coffee to take advantage of the wi-fi and get a little work done.

Eventually, I satisfied my obligation to “the man” and spent the next 2.5 days hanging out and catching up with old friends Melanie Thomas Dobbs and Parrish Baker. On the second night, I played a couple of sets at Parrish’s bar, during which Parrish challenged me to play songs that he expected I hadn’t played since high school. Needless to say, perhaps, I met and exceeded this challenge.

And of course, I paid my respects to Mr. Faulkner at Rowan Oak. Because if Oxford is my Mecca, Rowan Oak is my Ka’bah.

To top it off, I had what I can only describe as a mighty fine plate of catfish, friend okra, and cheese grits at Ajax Diner.

Next stop, Birmingham, AL where I’ll crash with my parents for a few days.