Day 7-Abbey Road

The rest of the trip could have sucked, and because of this, I still would have been glad for every penny and pound we spent. We did NOT stop traffic, but we did wait for openings. Jan Sabach is a great photographer, as you can tell.

We made sure we had all the photos we wanted, and then I worshipped a bit at Abbey Road studios.

And then to a local Beatles gift shop where the owner was playing Revolver. I asked if he ever met Paul, and he said, “No, but he lives in the neighborhood.” And he gave me his address! It was a few blocks away. No, I did not go there.

Tom flirting with the performance artists at the V&A

After that, everything was pretty boring. At least to me. We took the tube to the V&A which none of the kids was into.

I managed to see some Rodin sculptures (my favorite), some stone Buddhas, and a clockmaker exhibit at the Science Museum. But basically I was ready for cafe-hopping earlier than usual. We ended up riding public transit around town, landing eventually on the top and front of a double decker driving through Islington.

We had a farewell dinner with the Sabachs at a lovely place recommended to us by our friend Molly Burnham, and said goodbye to our friends. A wonderful week. Hard to believe we still have one more to go!

Twenty-five Years

IMG_3999This band started as a dream, like most bands do. Two girls, born 10 years too late, pouring over the cover of the Beatles Blue Album, which is not even, as it turns out, a real album. Two girls singing into their hairbrushes when no one else was nearby enough to hear. Two sisters, amazed to discover that the other one had a secret desire to sing, too. Two sisters, amazed to discover that her sister had a really good voice. Two sisters, brought up on Seeger and Dylan and determined to make a difference in the world, convinced music could change hearts and minds.

Parents loving enough to suspend disbelief and not insist on graduate school or real jobs.

A guy named Dave who loved them both and was willing to put up with them and put them up while they built the band.

Another guy named Dave who loved them both and was willing to lend his ear and genius and bass parts and nervous system to the project.

A third guy named Dave who played the drums with the passion of Animal and the precision of Edison.

A booking agent named Patty who turned road manager, then co-manager, then manager-babysitter-pastry-chef-maker-barista, who loved and laughed and kvetched and shook the trees and sometimes the sisters’ shoulders.

Tens of thousands of fans, who came and went over the years, but who floated the boat, sang along, believed and encouraged.

Seventeen CDs. Three books. Thirteen songbooks. A DVD. One vinyl double album. 44 states, 6 provinces, three countries, too many cities to count accurately (though Patty probably has a close approximation….)

Two grateful women, sisters, mothers, wives, friends, aunts, daughters, artists, writers, singers in the same old band. They thank you. We thank you. Thank you.

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Gospel of John, Lennon: Darkness and Light

Can it really be thirty-five years ago that John Lennon was murdered? He was 40 at his death; soon he will be 40 years gone. I keep checking my math, and it’s undeniable. I was in eighth grade in 1980, finally shedding some of my insecurity, and just beginning to express myself as a singer and songwriter. John’s death had a dramatic effect on me; I responded by immersing myself in his biography, learning everything I could about him and Yoko. Something in his outlaw identity matched my own adolescent mood, perhaps. At any rate, in reading about him and his courage in the late 60s when he took an idiosyncratic stand for peace (think bed-ins, think “Christ, you know it ain’t easy”), it occurred to me that I didn’t need to spend all my energy, as I had been, worrying about what everyone thought of me. I began the slow process of understanding that I was an artist, and therefore had a mission for the world. I wore black to school (instead of the requisite blue uniform), spoke out for peace, and came home to close myself in my bedroom with my Beatles and Lennon LPs. After months of this, I emerged a different person: braver, more ridiculous, perhaps, but definitely braver.

Of course, Lennon’s death meant something to millions of people. And certainly thousands if not millions of 13 year olds. I could have told this story very differently. I could have said that during this same time my grandfather was dying of cancer, and that my deep grief for the former Beatle was simply a mask for my sadness over losing my grandfather. I could have interpreted my reaction as plain old adolescent drama, but the fact that I claimed it as a positive personal myth shaped the way I have grown into a person. I am glad I saw things the way I saw them.

My Underground Seminary has been reading Richard Rohr’s meditations for Advent this December, and today’s reading was on darkness and light. The Gospel of John says “The light shines on inside the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.” (1:5). Rohr goes on to say that “We must all hope, and work to eliminate darkness…but at a certain point, we have to surrender to the fact that the darkness has always been here, and the only real question is how to receive the light and spread the light…What we need to do is recognize what is, in fact, darkness, and then learn how to live in creative and courageous relationship to it. In other words, don’t name darkness light. Don’t name darkness good.”

This is a challenge to me and my theology. I want there to be a silver lining in all darkness, and I want to go farther than that. I want the silver lining to actually redeem the darkness, make the darkness worth it. But how dare I say that Lennon’s death was worth it because I got inspired? Or that the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner might lead to a national re-thinking of racial profiling? The people who love them might want that too, but I bet they want their son or brother or friend back more. I wanted to think that something would change after Columbine, after Sandy Hook. But nothing changed that I could see (though my optimistic self wants to cry, “But the story isn’t over yet!”).

How do we tell the story? A baby was born in a manger, born into the generosity of the barnyard animals; born in the cold shrug of the innkeeper who wouldn’t give a room to a pregnant woman in labor. A prophet healed the sick and cured the lame and made the blind to see, and preached liberation theology and encouraged the believers to question the authorities and pluck grains on the Sabbath, and was executed by the Roman government in a hideous, slow, public way. And then his words got twisted for millennia and millions were murdered in his name. And along the way, many people derived great consolation from his teachings and the example of his life. Many found enlightenment through following him.

My son has had a difficult fall, in some ways. For the first three months of school, he dragged his feet every morning, clinging to his Legos, our legs, refusing to get dressed some days, even weeping as he trudged up the stairs and through the school doors every morning. We held him, we comforted him, we gave him consequences. We talked it over with his teacher, a wonderful women whom our older daughter had had, and whom we loved. Maybe she was the wrong fit for our son. We considered asking the school to switch him to a different class room. I fantasized about home schooling him (for about three seconds.) Finally, I consulted my parenting Bible, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. The next time he threw himself on the carpet during morning violin practice and yelled, “School is stupid! I hate school! Teachers are stupid!” I took a page from the book, and instead of trying to reason with him, as I usually did, (“Well, you might not like school, but it actually is the opposite of stupid,” and “it’s not very nice to use that word about anyone!”), I gave him a piece of paper and said, “I am so interested in how you are feeling! Could you show me so I could understand? Why don’t you draw a picture of that!” So he did. He drew a stick figure of himself, and then a bigger stick figure of his teacher. Then he drew a line from his hand to her head. He paused and said, “How do you spell ‘lightning?'” I paused too. Anger was one thing. Homicide another. But as I looked at my boy, I thought, he needs to know his anger is okay, and this is exactly the way I want him to express himself. So I gave him the correct spelling, and when he took his marker and scribbled out the teacher’s face with it (because, of course, the lightning had blown her head up!), I said, “Wow, you are so mad at her!” and nodded. He looked up at me, a satisfied look coming into his little face. This was right before Thanksgiving vacation. I didn’t hear any more complaints after that, and in fact noticed that he was a lot lighter and easier going. Last Friday as I was kneeling in front of him to zip up his winter coat, he said, “I love school, mama. I don’t hate it any more. I can’t wait to go to school!”

“Really,” I said mildly. “What changed?”

He shrugged. “I just grew into it.”

Yet as I write this, I know that, for myriad reasons, some mothers don’t have the freedom to trust their son’s (or daughter’s) darkness. I don’t claim to have the solutions to how we eradicate racism or violence. I just know that the frame that the story comes in is extremely important. And I would add to Rohr’s admonition to call the darkness darkness and light light, that some of that discernment is in the eye of the beholder. And that, as we all have darkness, we need to stop being so afraid of it. I think it helped my son immensely to have me come into his darkness and witness it and not tell him that he needed to be afraid. Maybe by saying, “Wow, you are really mad!” I was simply naming the darkness, and affirming that “mad” was an overlay. “You” are full of light, and this is just a dark spot on your essentially light background.

I have been lucky enough to outlive my own fears of the dark––of my own dark, anyway. Over the weekend, Katryna and I played a show in Virginia and got to hang out with my parents who are two of my favorite people who ever lived. Long gone are my adolescent conflicts, my petty criticisms of what I once called their bourgeois lifestyle. All that’s left is sweet, gentle, tender love, and more gratitude for them and to them than I can ever communicate. When I went through my own series of crises in my late twenties and early thirties, I was taught how to shine a light in my own darkness and untangle the stories, see them as just stories, frame them appropriately and make my amends; move on. Once I did that, forgiveness ceased being a choice; it became as obvious and necessary as breathing. Forgiveness seems to me a river at the base of it all, underground, like the river Styx, perhaps, and that when I get baptized in that river, I come out clean, and able to endure the beams of love, which were there all along. We all shine on, as John Lennon said. Shine, baby, shine.

What It Means to Do Work

I am sticking my head up for a moment to say I am here. We are playing two shows in NYC area this weekend: Friday at Rockwood Music Hall on the lower East Side, and Saturday at Jalopy in Red Hook (Brooklyn). I am bringing both kids with me to the City, and my beloved aunt and uncle are taking care of them. (In between gigs, we are going shopping for items for Elle’s Mad-Eye Moody costume). I say “sticking my head up” because I have been spending the bulk of my time gearing up to release our new album XVII. Though the official release date is not till Feb 2, 2015 (Groundhog’s Day! Imbolc! St. Bridget’s Day! Midwinter!), our Pledge Music Campaign starts October 27, and we are scrambling to film our video, write our copy, meet with our team, post the new photos by the amazing Kris McCue to the page, prepare the newsletter, send it out, pray for donations, etc. etc. Kit (our producer) is mixing tracks as we speak, and as soon as he sends them to us, we’ll be scrutinizing them (or whatever the aural equivalent of “scrutinizing” is) to make sure they are note-perfect. Meanwhile, the world goes on. Part of me wants to stay away from NYC because of Ebola (my kids are terrified about getting it), and most of me just feels so deflated that people are dying and their loved ones are standing by, helpless. This is just what the Climate Change scientists predicted, back in the innocent 00’s. Tuesday, in my guitar class, we played through Pete Seeger’s “Quite Early Morning,” and as I was singing the lyrics, I realized that though this song is about the Cold War, and the fear of nuclear annihilation, we’re now facing an entirely different form of annihilation with climate change. The more I learn about climate change, the more I want to hide my head in the sand, which is another reason I am sticking my head up now. A folksinger who hides her head in the sand, who doesn’t stay current, is not doing her job.

But neither can she do nothing but worry. We hiked in the Adirondacks last weekend, bringing almost-10-year-old cousin William with us. He is on Harry Potter 5, and even though Elle has technically finished all 7 books, most of them were read to her several years ago, and thus she does not have the same grasp of the details that William does. So as they marched up and down Hurricane Mountain, he instructed them on all the different spells they could cast with the wands they fashioned out of twigs (only certain twig shapes could be wands, of course. There was much searching for wands as we hiked.) They also decided to speak only in British accents. I, meanwhile, had downloaded a free pedometer app. Interestingly, while I now know I am way more sedentary than I’d previously thought, and though before the download I would have maintained to anyone who cared to listen that at 47 I am in the best shape of my life, after I downloaded and saw with dismay the meager number of steps I take on a daily basis, I immediately gained three pounds. But even though I am sorely tempted by the new Apple Watch, I am instead going to save my pennies for a treadmill desk.

As much as I do want an Apple Watch–and oh, doesn’t it delivers the promise we all had as kids, fantasizing about watching TV on our wrists?–I have some concerns about turning my body over to a device, or perhaps into a device. I have a strong feeling that Apple has already taken over the better part of my brain. Plus, I don’t want my kids to see just how obsessive I would be if all the answers to my potential questions were actually on my body at all times. Which is the problem with the pedometer and why I have resisted for so long in getting a Fitbit or any such thing. I’d rather just shoot for getting outdoors every day, breathing the air at its various temperatures and consistencies, feeling if my jeans are getting baggy or tight and adjusting accordingly.

As for Hurricane, it’s a pretty big mountain, and when we started out around noon, I felt ambivalent about ascending. What was wrong with a long walk in the woods with Stella and the kids? I had no need to actually go to the top of a peak. It was overcast, and there was no view. But as we hiked, and especially as we neared the summit, some internal chemistry shifted, and I was overcome with the desire to touch the fire tower at the top.

I wanted to pause, up there in the clouds, put my hands on my hips and sigh, turning 360 degrees to see what I could see. I wanted to say “I did it.”

Turns out there was a view after all.

We have to raise $30,000 for our new album, XVII. I guess we don’t HAVE to. We have to eradicate Ebola and figure out a way to consume less fossil fuel and save the planet and try not to kill off any more other species. But it would be nice to raise $30,000 too. I could just as easily go with a plan where we do the bare minimum, like we did with our last album, The Full Catastrophe. In that case, we made 1500 copies, did a super cheap cover (in fact, I took the picture. If we’d asked Katryna–an actual photographer–it would have cost more.) We did almost no publicity, and certainly no radio. We did exactly one CD release show with a band. Releasing that way, low budget, felt like going for a long walk in the woods. There is merit in climbing to the top inherent in the climbing. We artists are communicators. If we don’t do our job as fully and as well as we can, we feel we have failed, even as the work stands strong and proud (and I firmly believe that The Full Catastrophe is a strong, proud, truthful, helpful, beautiful record.) If you are reading this, we have already succeeded in communicating with you. But there are people who love the Nields and don’t know it yet. We need to reach them. This money that we are raising, we hope, will do just this. Someone’s life will be saved by “Witness” or “Princess.” Someone needs to hear “Victory” and “River.” Someone will be changed by “Dave Hayes the Weather Guy.” To paraphrase Pete Seeger: we want to put our one grain of sand on the beach we believe in. We really really really love this record and we firmly believe you will too.

Last winter, when faced with the choice of writing new songs or starting a new book project, I wrote new songs. When the first one wasn’t great, I wrote a better one. When that one didn’t totally get at the issue, I wrote another. I wrote until Katryna said, “You’ve written the album. Let’s record. These are the best songs you’ve ever composed.” I hope they tell the truth, that they bring hope, that you can dance to them, that kids will learn them on their guitars and pianos and that one day I will hear them being covered. Then I will feel as though I have done my job.

Pre-Production Week

Things I love about what’s happened so far:

Monday, we met with Michele Marotta, awesome fundraiser for The Cancer Connection, to brainstorm about ways to raise money to pay for this album. More to come on this. But I feel we now have some great ideas, and I don’t feel totally sick to my stomach about asking for money.
-We arranged “Love Love Love” at my house. We both started out in bad moods, and the ease with which we got the arrangement cheered us both up.

Tuesday. I drove up to Sackamusic, and we arranged “Wasn’t That a Time,” “As Big As I Am,” and started on “Victory (Turn It Around)”. Also, we talked about our Falcon Ridge set. Kit Karlson, our producer, is playing bass on the songs Amelia isn’t playing.

We came back to my house, where our intern Kay was updating our mailing list and entering our shows into Artist Data. She rocks! Here she is:

And here is a poem she wrote at my retreat:

On Being a Millennial:
What gets me
What really gets me
Is that in my years of
Emotional pampering, of
Participational trophies,
Dozens of selfies
Of being told I can be anything
Now people can make a living telling me
How I’m ugly on the inside
-Kay Carambia

Wednesday. Back to Sackamusic. It’s 90 degrees, and the guys are working on the roof. We figured out our Falcon Ridge set, after much musing on the requests we got on Facebook. We worked up “Joe Hill,” “You Don’t Have that Kind of Time,” “Dave Hayes the Weather Guy,” and had Dave come in to coach us on “Witness,” “Wasn’t That a Time,” “Love3” and “Delilah.” All we have left now is “Normandies” and “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream.” Dave wants me to Travis pick “Delilah!” Whoa! I haven’t Travis picked on a song since Sister Holler. So now I am going out to watch the thunderstorm and practice my Travis picking.