California

California, you know I love you
You know that I always will
You taught me to sing, you taught me to love, you taught me to lose

But you kicked me around, California
You told me what I had to hear
And it’s hard to be clear, and it’s hard to connect
Sunglasses and chess, no apologies yet.

- John Elliot, “The American West”

Sometimes I think (Southern) California is a little like an abusive relationship - every time I make up my mind that I’m not going back, it does something nice that makes me think about giving it one more chance. Last night I drove in to LA from Tucson a day early to hear my friend John Elliot perform - John and I met 5 or 6 years ago through a mutual friend and songwriter, Raina Rose, while we were in the Northwest. He is super funny and just an all around great person to hang out with; he is also an incredible, honest and brilliant musician. I once listened to a single song of his on repeat for 3 days straight while driving from Iowa to Portland. (Note to John: File restraining order.) I have been listening to his new album, Backyards, a lot and it has been part of the soundtrack to what has been a Very Interesting Year. He has such an beautiful way with words and music, and often will repeat a seemingly innocuous phrase until it becomes like a mantra - and then you realize that these simple words are incredibly important and he really wants you to hear them in a profound and meaningful way. “It was nothing at all but a casual lie, nothing at all but a casual lie, nothing at all but a casual lie.”

It was a brilliant show, at turns hilariously funny and deeply moving, and the crowd was the most attentive I’ve ever seen in LA - technically, Venice, and I guess that makes a big difference. The crowd was actually so quiet that the bartender stepped into the kitchen to make a drink that required shaking - *incredibly* thoughtful. The room was really well put together, lots of exposed brick and cool seating, great lighting, great PA and a grand piano on stage. The owner, Jeb, came up and introduced himself to me during John’s set and he was this genuinely kind and friendly guy, not pretentious, no artifice. All of these things are not necessarily what I associate with Southern California - my experiences playing music here have not been overtly positive, most of the venues are much more interested in how many people you can bring in than they are in you as a musician and performer. I know that business is business, but sometimes I get the feeling that a lot of the people in this city are just not that interested in being exposed to a meaningful experience.

Last night kind of changed my mind about that though; after the show we were hanging out on the sidewalk and I met another friend of John’s, Laura Meyer, also an incredibly talented touring songwriter. And we all just stood there on the sidewalk and talked and kind of just got lost in conversation, laughing and joking and commiserating about the ups and downs of being a touring musician and also connecting with each other in a Meaningful Way. In that moment I began to have a fuzzy realization at the edges of my consciousness, and I knew that I would give Southern California one more chance. That I will call Jeb at WitZend and try to book a show the next time I come through, and that I will ask 30 people to go, and I will hope that 5 of them actually show up. I don’t know if it’s foolishness, or hope, or just a relentless quest to connect the dots on the map in a way that makes sense - but I am taking you back, California. In all your crazy, congested, beautiful, superficial, paradoxical beauty, I am taking you back.


1 comment

  • Rick Millward
    Rick Millward
    Sometimes performing live has a "definition of insanity" tinge...then you have a night where it all comes together and that makes up for a lot...I miss California, but what I miss doesn't seem to be there any more and now when I visit I'm just reminded of why I left...

    Sometimes performing live has a "definition of insanity" tinge...then you have a night where it all comes together and that makes up for a lot...I miss California, but what I miss doesn't seem to be there any more and now when I visit I'm just reminded of why I left...

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