The tour is over, and I learned some things about musicians. I had thought they might be kind of like writers, in their habitual poverty, but I found out it’s much worse. As a writer you can’t get much more broke than broke: you write a story, a novel, or a lifetime of novels, or what-have-you, and either they sell or they don’t. Worst case, you’re out that investment of your time—call it a lifetime—and a few liters of ink, and some paper.
But to play music is to travel down into a pit of debt. Often—and I had heard that this was the case—the more you play, the poorer you can get, on the road. In this regard, the beauty generated by music carries quite a different price than that generated by literature. The smaller yet necessary venues in which off-the-top expenses for venue rental, sound engineer, lighting engineer, gas, van-wear, food, and drink lay waste to whatever number of folks wander in that night to listen to live music, and to living stories, and to this curious and unique thing we are giving breath to that combines the two in such a way as to make a whole that is greater than the parts. And then to divide that negative number then by five has the curious effect of making that debt smaller. It’s a curious paradigm. There is cost and safety in numbers. Thanks to your Kickstarter support, however, we have a real chance of climbing up out of that Abyss-of-the-Artist and seeing this project—completion of a CD/album ready-for-the-world—become a reality, and having these amazing CDs arrive, one day before too long, in your mailbox.
There is reward, however, in addition to cost. This just-completed tour has been the best ten days of my life, artistically. I can’t begin to fully describe any of it: ten days, 1778 miles, six great shows, some old friends seen and new friends met—too many to talk about here—and, perhaps more to the point of Kickstarter, three incredibly intense days of recording at Type Foundry studios in Portland, under the direction of Adam Selzer and his partners John and Dylan. Long, long live takes, what were essentially fifteen-minute-long songs, with any tiny slip by any one of the five of us—or anything less than exactly the way we wanted it requiring a certain kind of performing, and a kind of listening, the hypersensitivity of which exceeded even that degree of acute vigilance known to the hunter, where every step, every breath, every space between breaths, is felt with such intensity as to become incandescent.
Sometimes I am prone to hyperbole—it’s often kind of my bread and butter—but I think that what we recorded in Portland—going into debt to get the album on tape, or rather, on the computer—is a significant and amazing work of art. I would not be so foolish as to make predictions for it but have not experienced any feeling like it since I finished the last story in my first short story collection, The Watch, roughly twenty-five years ago. People still come up and tell me those stories made them want to become writers, changed their lives, etc. I think what Stellarondo has put together here will be the same way for musicians. Stellarondo is daring, bold, magnificent. You likely already know that about them. When no less a stalwart than Gibson “Old Man” Hartwell, who has seen and heard a few things in his long career, describes the project as unprecedented and unique, then surely, it is. Gratifying, too, and reinforcing our belief that we are on to something wonderful, is to be found in the testimonials from the great bounty of Portland-area musicians, and, perhaps most gratifying of all, from Adam and the folks at Type Foundry, who are not given to hyperbole and who have been listening to all kinds of music for decades on end. It is no small thing for people to come up after a show, as some did at almost every show, and declaim that the performance was one of the most moving things they’d experienced in a longtime, and sometimes ever.
I have to confess, it’s a little uncomfortable, tooting our horn like this. But they say Kickstarter, with its melting time-clock, and with so much riding on your generosity, and the timing of your generosity, is no place to be modest, and I have to confess also, the end product is going to be so amazing that I would feel dishonest, like I was withholding something, to not make a claim of how exciting and powerful the work is.
Perhaps last night’s dream, the after-residue of the tour, has some meaning. Gone from the luminous dream-space of the shared intensity of making a beautiful thing and putting it into the world, and transitioning back into Regular Life, in the dream I was leaning over a giant upright bass, much like the one that I sat in front of—absorbing–in each show, while Travis kept rhythm of every song, and every story. In the dream, I didn’t know my name, or where I was, or anything else. Everything was new, and I did not want to leave. A dream as simple, really, as the album we’ve just finished recording is elegant and complex. Surely it was the residue of the tour and the recording—Crazed Genius Travis, Sweet “Great is Never Good Enough, Let’s Do Another Take” Bethany (I’m remembering now the delicate sound of each note when she plucked, rather than bowed, the cello, and of course her eerie saw), surf guitar/pedal steel “Lonesome Squared” Gibson, and the magic of hanging out with those folks, in some ways best typified for me by those exquisite moments at the start of each show when Caroline, strumming her acoustic arch-top tenor guitar, would appear amazed, momentarily betranced, by the beauty of what was coming out of that wooden box, that crafted ship.
Each time, she would seem to hesitate for a moment, waiting, and then would step forward to let the first words of the song come out of her mouth; and during the stories, sitting on my stool, listening and waiting for my cue to begin (“There goes your bogie,” Gibson would whisper), my heart would be pounding, as when in baseball and up at bat, or in football, leaning forward slightly and listening, with fiery waiting, to the snap count dwindling down—waiting for all longing and urgency to explode; waiting for the world, this different, made world—the one we are dreaming and trying to fashion, with your help—to begin.
We’ve laid off a bit in deluging you with daily Kickstarter appeals, but as the clock winds down, I regret to say that we’ll probably be deluging you, in the hopes of leveraging and taking advantage of existing generosities, and the ever-shortening shelf-life of those commitments. We really, really need to pre-sell a bunch of these amazing CDs, or what feels like a bunch to me. If 100 people buy two copies, or 200 people commit to one, we can get it—The Road to the Ryman—done. Alternatively, if two or three folks commit to purchasing a house party, it can still get done. It’s coming down to the wire.