Archive for February, 2013
“No one ever died from sleeping in an unmade bed.”
Dunga Brook Diary, 2/28/13
Yesterday, I sat with Kristen, the gallery director at Cherry Branch Gallery. Prepping for my show, we were scouring each and every picture I have uploaded to FB in the past year and a half, she’s picking her favorites and categorizing them.
There are about 7 folders of pictures so far, my favorite being the “I can’t live without” folder, loaded with pictures that make her sigh, close her eyes and drop her head in exhausted ecstasy. There are a lot of pictures to look through. She might just be tired.
When I see my photos through her editing eyes, I can see we are going to have a kick ass show.
One thing I don’t have many of are “people photos”. This is Margo, my neighbor, making sausage in her kitchen last summer, you can’t see Tim who is half-naked with a tattoo across his shoulder’s that reads, “Grace”. Margo is in this lovely white Grecian gown that looks like it cost about a dollar but you could take her anywhere.
Kristen would drop sigh, drop her head and close her eyes at this photo, too, but she hasn’t seen it yet. When she does she will drop into the folder “special effects” because I photoshopped it. She will ask me to find the original. She likes purity.
And I will. But I couldn’t resist photoshopping it last night, Margo is a work of art.
A big hug and XO to you, Kristen.
I love old barns, each one a snowflake and their elegant dissolve, slow motion as it is, is a thing of beauty to behold.
You know it must be February when a vole leaves a love note in the snow that your heart understands.
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
Well, it’s settled then. Monday’s are miracles. Period.
”…when I die lord won’t you put me up on that train…won’t you send it southbound give it a cool bluesman name…”
~Ryan Bingham, Southside of Heaven, Mescalito
Dunga Brook Diary, 2/24
It’s a silent day in central NY, snowing again.
This abandoned train on the outskirts of Oneonta reminds me of Ryan Bingham. Ryan Bingham reminds me of LA. LA reminds me of The Cinema bar.
One summer night, circa 2001, I dragged my LA music producer boyfriend there, I was sure he was going to love it- I’d read in the LA Weekly that the Cinema Bar was a great place to hear live music, a place where singer-songwriters like Lucinda Williams might show up and join in with whatever local band was playing.
We finally found The Cinema bar on a dank street populated with no-tell motels and shuttered wholesale carpet outlets on the edge of Culver City. Twice, we’d missed the red and green sign above the door spelling out its name in buzzing neon.
Inside, it was a hole in the wall. A juke joint. A place with no cover, no doorman and only one bartender behind a bar far bigger than the rest of the room facing a thirsty, blue-collar looking crowd.
The decor was easily out of date by the 70’s, with its party-stained wood interior, haphazard stools and rickety tables and rotating-slogan beer signs, instead of hipster LA pin-lighting and banquette seating.
Above the head of the weary, chain-smoking bartender was a tv chained to the wall, endlessly broadcasting sports to the unsportiest of crowds. There was a grandma with a beehive hairdo who looked as if she’d been there since 1965, a toothless trucker falling asleep beside her, a cadaverous fellow chain smoking with his pinky in the air, numerous colorful rockabilly chicks in cowboy boots and a group of flannel over wife beater wearing he/she’s giggling next to a Howdy Doody looking character raising a can of Shiner Bocke to the band.
The band was loud.
Back when I was a teenager living in Illinois, in a nowhere town that sidled the Mississippi River, I thought that I hated bars like this.
Still, that was exactly where you’d find me on Saturday nights with my boyfriend, I’d be wearing a tube top and we’d be playing foosball underneath neon signs, he’d have a Busch in his hand flirting with me between scoring goals and I’d be under-age drinking a blue Hawaiian, we’d both be singing along to Lynard Skynard songs playing on a jukebox amped to deafening decibels. Aside from the drunken welders and rage filled Viet Nam vets who truly owned those riverfront bars, it was exactly where I wanted to be on those muggy midwestern nights.
The Cinema bar’s stage was nothing more than a spot for the band set up in at what used to be a front window (blacked-in now). The band and the fans stood just elbows apart, sweaty face to sweaty face.
Turns out the band that the LA Weekly had mentioned would be there had already played there the week before, this was some other band.
We stood at the packed bar, easily 3-deep, trying to breathe in the cigarette smoke-filled room, an impossibility, so we listened. The band strummed, the drummer set a rhythm, a key board player in horn rims played something I think I heard in high school at Scotty’s Skateland when it was time for “the couples skate”, then something happened, the lead guitar took over, he bent low over that guitar, he worked it, wrenching out the cords, the singer closed his eyes and sang louder, suddenly a swooping feeling inside as the room began to vibrate and shimmer…
The band was AWESOME.
My heart jumped. Stuff like this reminds you of who you really are and where you come from. Until that moment, I had no idea how deep the red in my neck ran. This rock n roll and this tiny dive bar just off the 405 was the closest thing to heaven I’d found in LA.
Wow, I mouthed to my boyfriend. Wow, he mouthed back and hugged me in.
The band was announced as the Randy Weeks Band. Turns out Randy was a stalwart of the Americana scene in LA, a scene that somehow began in the 80’s with punk bands like X, The Blasters and Randy’s previous band The Lonesome Strangers.
In the 80’s, I was a newly minted fashion designer hanging out in Manhattan Beach doing another version of X with the terminally cool south bay crowd and “dancing” to canned Depeche Mode.
The highlight of my 80’s nights, whilst semi-dancing to music I didn’t like and couldn’t understand (beneath black lights in a pseudo-rave bar)? Picking neon lint off of hipsters dressed in black whose veneers were another kind of delight- all that horsey dental work flashing, like fluoridated strobes, all shades of neon blue.
Finding The Cinema bar, a good 16 years after moving to LA, tore me up.
When I realized that this Americana scene, full of skinny dudes with awesome songs manhandling old guitars, wearing the Levi’s and the cowboy boots of my youth, with the camaraderie and seediness of a good Midwestern dive bar, that all this had existed all along but I’d been too busy designing ugly ass hi-top sneakers and wearing tight polyester bike shorts with belted jackets and Muglier shoulder pads whilst listening to KROQ…well, I sat down and cried.
By the time I found Randy, he had been in residence at the Cinema Bar on Saturday nights for years. Lucky for me, he’d be there for a few more. In those few years we became friends. I’m even on the liner notes of his album Sugarfinger, an album that my boyfriend eventually produced (with my dogged prodding, he was busy by then with REM, Courtney Love, Ryan Adams et al).
And, I met Lucinda Williams at The Cinema bar. Briefly. She was dark. Kohl eyed. Mumbly. Awesome. Her boyfriend at the time was Mike Stinson, the drummer in Randy’s band. By then, Lucinda had recorded Randy’s song, Can’t Let Go, for her album Car Wheels On A Gravel Road.
I met Miss Pamela Des Barres there, too. A bit after Lucinda…Miss P was dating the same drummer after he and Lucinda split. Listen, the guy is an amazing drummer. Pamela was a vision with her twinkling eyes and ruby smile, watching her twirl on the dance floor made everyone wish they were in love, always.
I never caught Ryan Bingham at the Cinema Bar, although I heard he played there. I found Ryan through Shilah Morrow and her promotions group, SinCity, when they threw his Mescalito launch party in Hollywood.
I missed that party but googled Southside of Heaven. One listen and I was hooked. He has a voice that is at once raw and gorgeous, it is like no other. And, one look at him sent me cursing the gods that made age and whatever else come between us. It’s that smile, that cowboy smile.
The first time I saw Ryan play was at a hole in the wall venue in Topanga. It was bittersweet. That night, I so much wanted to share Ryan’s music with my boyfriend but we’d split. Instead, I went with a friend who could have cared less.
When I heard Southside of Heaven, it blew me away, you know that feeling- ecstatic and desperate, hungry and satiated, high and jonesing, you want more more more. Come on, you know what I am talking about! It’s more than that smile, its that voice…
If Randy Weeks was my homecoming, Ryan was my rocket back to the stars. That man is my Bob Dylan. My ___ (fill in your own blank, we all have our own thing going on).
I was in the audience of every LA area show Ryan played until I moved to CNY. Sometimes I’d go alone, most times I went went with my friend Bobbie who fell in love with Ryan just like me.
By coincidence, a year before I left LA, I was in the audience at the Oscar’s when Ryan won his Oscar for the soundtrack of Crazy Heart. Crazy. Heart.
Randy Weeks lives in Austin now and we’ve lost touch. Mike Stinson has his own Americana career via the Houston honkytonk circuit. Miss P became my writing mentor. Bobbie has visited me in CNY twice now and taken up portrait photography. I’ve moved to the east coast to an old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere to write, take photos, dream, and just recently I’ve reconnected with my ex.
Ryan is in Topanga prepping for another newer and larger tour than the last. The last time I saw him live was in a tiny venue and it felt like the last time I needed to. He hit it big. I knew he would.
Out here, we have Ommegang. And that is a very, very good thing. A great brewery that holds a great concert series in the summer- I’ve seen Steve Earle, Bon Iver, Lyle Lovett, Darius Rucker, Wilco, Cake and many others, almost all of them in one summer.
Not bad, but my dream line-up would be be Randy Weeks and Lucinda Williams with Ryan Bingham.
Miss P would be there dancing like a dream, Bobbie would be the official photographer and I’d be in the audience, on the grass, under the stars with you know who by my side.
A girl can only dream on such a winter’ day.
“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
~John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
County Highway 19 and a tiny slap of Bukowski…plus Dunga Brook Diary in which I confess my Dream of being an iphone Ansel Adams…
“I loved you like a man loves a woman he never touches, only writes to, keeps little photographs of.” ~Charles Bukowski, Love is a Dog from Hell
Dunga Brook Diary, looking back, spring/summer 2011…
I bought a farmhouse that I found on Facebook.
I bought a farmhouse that I found on Facebook named Dunga Brook, the original homestead of a 2,000 acre dairy farm built in the 1820’s.
I bought a farmhouse with an acre of land, in a place I had never heard of, for $10,000, because of a post on Facebook.
Why did I do this? Because , because, because, because, because…
Because, I was on Facebook. Because back then I had that much money in the bank. Because I was without ties, because I was over my career in fashion, because I had a number one and only son who was going off to college in August, because if I didn’t do something drastic I would lose my mind when he left, because I had 25 years in LA under my belt (because 25 of those years had been spent wishing I was somewhere small town USA else), because, basically, I had to.
I wrote a poem once with the line, “the tragic leap is the only dance-step I know…”. Melodramatic, yes, but what I meant was, I don’t do things in half-measures. All in or all out.
My moves aren’t predicated on logic, wisdom, reality, time and space continuums, obligations, duty, society…when the voice inside my head says, “its time,” I dance.
So, when Tim Giblin, a man I barely new from an LA poetry class, posted a picture of a farmhouse on Facebook somewhere in New York on an April morning in 2011, I bought it.
Dunga Brook was for sale by owner and Tim, who lived next door, wanted someone he knew to be his new neighbor.
Turns out, you want to like your neighbors in the middle of nowhere.
I don’t think I was what he had in mind but if he was disappointed, he never let on.
That summer, my son and I had to live in a campground while Dunga Brook was being renovated. God knows we couldn’t live in her, she had been torn down by the elements (rain, snow, rain, snow, wind, rain, snow) and had been sorely mistreated by the last tenants who were, literally, squatters.
The squatters had destroyed a few of the things that the elements hadn’t yet (like the stairs to the second floor and the electrical panel in the stone basement) as a good ole country FU and goodbye.
Seems, the owner of the house had called the squatter’s closest relative, an uncle who once rented the house, and told him to deliver this message…”get out or we’ll burn the house down with you in it.” They did get out.
The KOA campground was the only place left for long-term rental that summer. I had no idea when I bought Dunga Brook that she was in the middle of the Cooperstown Dreams Park baseball summer mania.
Turns out that this little nowhere land turns into baseball central all summer long- there are baseball parks, baseball memorabilia shops, The Baseball Museum, baseball Hall of Famers are inducted out here, and the families of all the little baseballers from all over the world rent every little home and hotel room there is to be found while they pursue their mini major league Dreams in that Park.
So, into the last rental camper trailer at the KOA we went. Which thrilled my soon to be off to college son, Connor, to no end. His Dream had always been to live in a trailer.
That trailer magically led to a reconnection to my Dream. I practically grew up in a camper. My dad dragged us to every campground in the state of Florida and up the coast to Maine in back when I was a child. Camping is in my bones, my heart and my soul.
What camping meant to a shy little girl was hours and hours of roam time, commune time, Dream time with all the little creatures and plants and water bodies of the earth.
And here I was, iphone in hand, lucid dreaming in a land of such staggering beauty that I couldn’t understand what the big deal was with all that migration west . Who could leave this place?
Thanks to that migration, CNY – as compared to LA – was essentially empty, save the baseballers and their families crowded into Cooperstown Dreams Park.
Suddenly, I understood what I was meant to do with that iPhone in my hand. Take pictures. Take a million bazillion gazillion pictures of my Dream. Lay down in the grass with my face in the dirt and breathe. Look up to the sky at the clouds marching by and breathe. click. click. click.
Suffice it to say, I took over 20,000 iPhone pictures that summer while I waited for that house to be rebuilt and not one human besides my son and my shadow got in the way of a sunset, a sunrise, a crystal clear lake, a wild flower, a you name it.
By fall, I had carpal tunnel. Turns out you can’t just take 20,000 iPhone pictures, edit them and upload them to Facebook, regale everyone with the beauty you have found, the Dream you have landed in the middle of, without paying a price.
I would lie in bed at night, my right arm in the air and cry, it hurt so bad. I googled iPhone and carpal tunnel and ah ha, yes, of course.
Luckily for me, there are a lot of great people up here, that is the yummy little secret of this place.
Yes, it is in the middle of nowhere, NYC is 4 hours away, Boston, the same, the nearest Starbucks is 90 miles away (this is how a LA person views the world)…but the people who live up here are amazing, educated, brilliant, fun, artistic, earthy, gorgeous, adventurous, and exactly what I wasn’t expecting to find.
Somehow, between taking a picture of everything that did and didn’t move, I met all of them.
My carpal tunnel was cured by one of the best massage therapists I have ever met who also, to my great delight, somehow ended here. Cheryl Rosen of The Spring House Spa in Sharon Springs saved my life. Well, my arm. And a lot of sleepless nights.
This April, 6th, 2013, I have a *photography show at the Cherry Branch Gallery, two years from the day that Tim Giblin posted a picture of a little broken farmhouse named Dunga Brook on Facebook.
*Vicki Whicker shoots all her photos with an iPhone, edits them in iphoto and pic monkey and Dreams of being an iPhone Ansel Adams.
“Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and trouble is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?” ~John Keats
Via Kevin Sessums: “John Keats penned this in 1819, to George and Georgina Keats in a letter that has become known as The Vale of Soul-Making.”
Dunga Brook Diary, remembering July, 2011.
Leaving LA, after 25 years, felt like the right thing to do. LA was a pit stop, a very complicated, very expensive pit stop on my journey through life.
On the road from LA to NY, I followed my son in his truck and took iPhone pictures through my truck’s windshield. Mostly of his tail lights. I admired his ability to drive away from the only life he’d ever known, his childhood friends, the dry heat and the desert he loved, all in the support of my new gold dream.
I’m an old hand at leaving. The first time was traumatic, my dad was transferred from Florida to Illinois in January and I went from a Gilligan’s Island type paradise to some sort of snowy 70’s version of Petticoat Junction. Sans the pretty girls and fun. I spent years plotting my way out, first as a long haul truck driver, which I realized later was the desire to run, be powerful, in charge of my own destiny. I toyed, during a brief summer romance, with the idea of leaving as someone’s wife, the wife of a football coach who transferred from campus to campus in search of that ultimate winning team. But hooking on to someone else’s dream is just not my thing. No matter how handsome the dreamer.
The summer after college, I ended up taking my mom’s powder blue International Scout and moving to a Colorado ski resort for seasonal work. Five super saturated 80’s years as a “ski bunny” in Vail was my max. When a friend moved to LA, I thought, why not try a big city, see what you can do as a small fish in a big pond?
But this cross-country move was different, I was uprooting someone else’s life. Connor was off to college in the fall and somehow I’d justified it in my mind that moving the day after he graduated would be the best timing for both of us.
I didn’t cry during our going away party, packed as it was with every fun friend I’d made from all my varied walks of life in the big city, but he did, tipsy on absconded beer he communed with his Cali best buds while the band played and we danced. I didn’t cry as we packed, when we drove away. The hours and the miles ticked by.
Across the plains, the skies were a cathedral of thunderheads, rainbows that went straight up and down, lightning that streaked sideways. It was majestic, this threat of weather related annihilation. Nothing happened for hours, aside of the light show and darker skies. Finally, the great release as the rain came.
I cried then, my wet eyes on his quivering red tail lights, the distance vast between us.
“Stare. It’s the way to educate your eyes. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.” ~Walker Evans