Digital taping

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon and I’m just back from taking my broken toe for a walk. Big toe, right foot, a week ago exactly, on my last day in Austin, TX but you all know the first rule of SXSW. What happens in SXSW stays in SXSW. Oddly, I broke the same toe exactly ten years ago, in London. That time it was on the way to interview Buffy Sainte-Marie, and tripped in my brand new scarlet Doc Martens and snapped my toe. Pro that I am, I jumped in a cab and hopped into her hotel room not a minute late; sweetheart that she is, she unlaced my boot, rushed off to fill her ice bucket, put my foot in it and would have probably made a splint out of the bedpost if I’d let her. Turns out that all they can do for a broken toe is tape it up, tell you not to play (English) football or let anyone step on it for six weeks, and not to take it personally when everyone falls about laughing and says you walk like a duck.

digital taping

digital taping


So far I’ve followed their advice. But now I’m faced with a wardrobe dilemma. This evening I have to be at Walnut Creek’s Authors under the Stars Gala – it’s a benefit for their library system, where people pay a couple of hundred dollars apiece to sit with me or the participating author of their choice (see list below – and hooray, my table’s sold out!) – and I’m expected to dress for the occasion. Hmm. So it looks like it’ll have to be a little black dress and… Uggs.
But let’s time travel back to the day when all my digits were fully-functional and high heels an option: South by Southwest. I had a brilliant time. There was the usual insane scrum of people, of course (an aerial view of 6th St on Friday night would definitely have been a contender for the Bosch painting lookalike award) and long lines outside a lot of the cool shows, but one of the great things is that you keep running into people on the street that you know and like and don’t expect to see. Like my friend Phil from London, who’d popped over at the last minute on an assignment for Q. Or Thurston Moore, who just happened to drop by South Congress Books – where I was doing a reading and playing some Leonard Cohen songs with Greg Ashley – to buy something. I don’t think I’ve spoken to him at any length since my Serge Gainsbourg book.
But the big highlight of the week for me was my panel ‘Leonard Cohen and his Women’, with three of my favourite such women, Julie Christensen, Perla Batalla and Ronee Blakley. We ended up going overtime, and closed with a few spontaneous songs. To sit next to Ronee while she sang Hank Williams, acapella (Leonard Cohen loves Hank) and Julie and Perla as they duetted on Anthem – and then have them sing backing vocals to me and my uke on Famous Blue Raincoat (and thank you Colin Gilmore for being my uke roadie) is so many kinds of wonderful. If and when SXSW posts their video, I’ll pass it on.

SXSW: ‘Leonard Cohen and his Women’

http://www.austinchronicle.com/music/2013-03-15/leonard-cohen-and-his-women/

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Yesterday I woke up in a child-sized bed in a tiny little room at the Big Sur Inn. If you want to feel like a character in a fairy tale, this is the place to go. Trees so tall they make you feel like Alice; a chilly fog wheeling and rolling up from the sea below. And this little wooden house – not much bigger than a garden shed but filled with books, a different kind of tool – with a big name: The Henry Miller Memorial Library.

The first time I went there was three years ago, almost exactly. Marianne Faithfull had asked me to come see her perform on the outdoor stage in the library’s grounds. The day before the concert, I’d sent off a proposal for a book I wanted to write on Leonard Cohen – a long proposal, 20 pages, around 15,000 words for the writers among you, a kind of textual GPS read-out on where I thought that the book might go, having no idea at that time of all the different side streets and tunnels and off-road adventures I would be led along in its creation. Driving back from Big Sur,  at that point when the roads stop winding quite so wildly and  phone reception returned, my mobile began beeping. The messages were offers from publishers for my book.

So it began. And I would have never believed that, three years later, I would be on the Miller library stage, reading my book, and singing Leonard Cohen songs. Big Sur’s not exactly a short drive from San Francisco, but Annie Girl (gtr) and Charith Premawardhana (viola) – she of Annie Girl and the Flight, he of the acclaimed Classical Revolution – drove down, played with me, then drove straight back for a late-night gig in Berkeley. And, as the night grew cold and the moon shone through the fog, Greg Ashley and his band played the ‘Death of a Ladies Man’ album from start to end, to the backdrop of rare film footage of Cohen.

This morning I woke up in L.A. Solid blue sky, blazing sun. Looking out the window I can see a pool with air-mattresses floating about, looking very seductive. So I’m going to sign off and hopefully see some of you at Book Soup tonight, one of my favourite L.A bookstores (my old friend Tosh Berman used to be manager until he left to concentrate on publishing books himself). Hoping tonight to play a couple of songs backed by Rob Laufer – check him out, an amazing singer-songwriter… not to mention ‘George Harrison’ in Cheap Trick’s ‘Sgt Pepper’ shows and at Sir George Martin’s Hollywood Bowl Beatles show.