Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My Old Jacket

I was at Anton's apartment in San Francisco yesterday, messing around with arrangement ideas for some of my new songs. We walked a few blocks for a cup of coffee as the sun was setting somewhere behind the fog. I stepped outside, though, to find that the jacket I’ve been wearing everyday for the last few months was too thin for the impending season, I was instantly itching with cold.

Opening the trunk of my car, I found an old Salvation Army counter jacket that has given me a lot of good use. I cut a couple stars out of some fabric that I found in a chest in my parent’s living room a couple years ago and sewed them on the sleeve. I lived in that thing in the cold months of the west coast, at least when at sea level.

I remember a show in Davis sometime in spring 2005. Push to Talk and Audrye Sessions were playing at a coffee shop up there and I hitched a ride and tagged along last minute to play acoustic between sets. I wore that jacket the whole time, even while I played, the sweat staining right through it. The little place was completely packed and I pulled a mic out into the middle of the room, the middle of the crowd and plugged into the PA, played like there was a band behind me. I’m playing an acoustic show next month and planning on playing some more. I miss that feeling, I miss showing up with just a guitar and my suitcase full of cables, pedals and cds and t-shirts. That night those two bands and I solidified our friendship with a binge at Mike’s house. It was all of us. Two vans full of crusty kids and a whole bunch of folks from the university. That was the first night we all had to share with one another. Now there are dozens of shows, from Oakland to LA to Austin, and many a drunken night.

I threw my new jacket in the trunk and shivered for a second, wrapped myself in the old one. It felt too small - it was from the kid’s section anyway, but it was a whole lot warmer. Walking to the coffee shop, the night began to fade in and passing a Christmas tree lot, the hanging lights lit up the sidewalk like a movie set. I wriggled around, feeling feelings of the last few years rise up to the surface of my skin.

I remember wearing it one night after a show at Michigan State - about exactly a year ago. We had loaded out in a fierce rain that turned overnight into a wet snow that melted on impact and flooded the streets. I was standing in our trailer while everyone got settled, the door wide open in the wind and my guitar yanked from its case, strumming and hollering songs out into the storm, getting out all I couldn’t get out on stage.

We got our coffee and warmed up. We talked about the crumbling music industry and the gaping wide opportunities it leaves for small artists, for artists who are willing to carve their own path, to do right by their fans, and make music that’s genuine, that’s real, that actually speaks to people – be it a large or small crowd.

I thought of another moment in that jacket. It was early May of this year and I had just had a bitter lunch with the A&R guy that was assigned to us after Capitol gave the folks who signed us, and everyone else we signed up to work with, the axe. We were standing there on 6th Ave finishing up our conversation in front of the EMI building. He and I were forgetting about business discussions, about my album, about the sorry state of their label, and were finally hitting it off talking about Nick Cave and Tom Waits, about Leonard Cohen, about real music we were into. We found that we were both fans of the stuff that was made from inspiration, not for the sake of the bottom line. As we were about to part ways, the head of A&R, the second in command there, stepped out the front door. He looked at me and said, “Don’t you know its warm today? Why are you wearing that jacket?”

“Because it looks cool," I responded without even thinking, "Don’t you know anything about the music industy?”

Needless to say, he and I weren’t really seeing eye to eye at the time, but having some distance from it, I really like that one moment, and a lot of others with those ridiculous businessmen. I laugh a lot more in retrospect though.

Getting back to the apartment with a warm cup of coffee in my hands, I began to feel insecure in the jacket. There were other people there and I felt like I was misrepresenting myself wearing it. They would look at me, wrapped in the stains of memory, and see the person I was months ago, maybe years ago. All those things I’ve experienced in that thread and fabric are all a part of me, of course, but I’ve moved on to a new jacket, and a little different perspective, a different feeling, and a different fit. When I left, I switched back to the new one.

Maybe its time for that old jacket to return to Salvation Army.