The Beauty Unobvious

27 Jul

She walked through the space inbetween.  Where the tide and the salt-air merges.  This space is where the giant butterflies dance and collide…

Their conversation evolved from seemingly nowhere.  She was too taken with serendipity to question or analyse, and happily gave as much as she took, from this otherwise reclusive encounter.

He was the harbour watchman on Fort Adams.  She pulled her navy hood above her head and let it fall flacidly over her hair, pulled back in a salty knot.  Her shorts were thinning on the backside and she could feel the coolness of the sand-scorched pebbles on her bare thighs.  She drew her knees to her chin and squinted her eyes to bring the stack of slate-perfect rocks into focus.  The evening sun dipped below the bridge, taking commuters and tourists back to Providence, and hit the top stone like a sacred-halo.

At only twenty-four years old, he was brave and nervous.  His laughter penetrated her and cut into her, leaving cracks of anxiety.

The fisherman and his grandson selected a worm from the empty whipped-butter tub and speared it on the hook of the line.  Positioning himself exactly inches behind the five year old, he stretched and reached and released the cord into the water below the dock – the little boy held a hand towards it and imagined he himself had created this moment.  Captured this fish.

The water below rippled but didn’t break.  The sun dipped completely and the shadows disappeared.  The bag of discarded apples spilled across the grass and the smell of gasoline lingered in the air.

It was one of those evenings where the skies turned to such a fiery orange palette that you had to hold your breath – afraid of losing the last oxygen in your lungs – scared of suffocating in this heated, liquid sky.  She crept across the bridge towards the lighthouse and kept her vision on the white lights, perfectly spaced across the huge structure.  Like frozen beads of rain or drops of tears.  The words to Manna came back to her, and she dove into the water…

I’m swimming in it, I’m swimming out to you…for reasons, my reasons…”

Howard Street eluded her.  Like the star that only revealed itself in the vision of her periphery.  Look straight at it, and it will disappear from view.  Set your sights off-centre and it’s there.  Some things we can never fully see.  We just have to trust they are there – happening outside of our view.

In the thick of the night it was as though you could float down the street, unnoticed and invisible.  With arms outstretched, there was no choice but to feel your way along this chosen path.  A picket-fence to one side, a granite wall to the other – a physical barrier to separate our footsteps from their buried breaths.

The sky was like liquorice treacle and the stars burst like the green shards of crushed glass on the sidewalk.  She stepped ahead, knowing that this was the place where it all began.  In her pocket, she felt the coolness of the pebble and pressed it into her palm.

Did stones keep you safe from harm?

She never asked his name – but it didn’t matter.  They passed the time as he counted his tips and she waited for her sea-salted hair to dry.  He carried a gym-bag – full of history books.  She carried a backpack – full of notebooks.  She drank tea – he coffee.  Black, no sugar.  His skin was sallow, grey and scarred with fifty years she could never claim to own.  He talked with lucid charm and intuitive wisdom – yet had the openness of a child.

She unscrewed the lid from a miniature glass bottle of maple syrup and gulped down the liquid.

She offered him a swig.  “Good stuff.  Try?”

Her transient companion declined – “The real good stuff is hard to find.  You got to catch that stuff quick.  There’s gold in it.  Sugar settles into your bones.”  He had a way with words – drama never left him.  The unwritten novel within him simmered and the flame burned lower each day.

She left the Diner and turned right and down the narrow street towards the cemetary, past the grey slatted building that she hoped was where it all made sense.  The music.  The Doghouse, the House Tornado, the place where dreams spilled into the road, got caught up in truck tyres like sugary gravel, carted cross-country – and evaporated into space.  Into that periphery.  The space we forget to notice.  The space we feel.  But don’t see.

Walking out as far as she could, until the salt-water lapped at her unravelled hems; the silt underfoot encased her toes and the spongy, mossy sea-bed felt like slippery velvet.  Yachts and mansions on the shoreline reminded her – simple pleasures remained in the blurry periphery.  For that, she would always be grateful.  Picking up a flat-sided stone, she skimmed it across the water’s surface and watched it travel and skip – once, twice, three times – before sinking, resting.  Hidden from view.

The derelict mansion on the cliffside stood at the corner.  Ocean Drive was visible now and she headed to the furthest rock.  Time had smoothed it and she let her feet side-slip down to the waves, crashing against the seaweed-slime.  A mother steadied her daughter as the little girl stood, arms spread out – as if to catch as much as she could. 

This moment.  This life.  This was enough.  She looked across to the mansion – boards at the windows.  And in the attic – a crack in the window and a white curtain emerging – a place to let the light in.

Reaching Goat Island, she pressed her headphones closer to her ears.  If she could crush her senses with sound, she would.

The music filled the space and the frozen beads of rain collided with the stars in the night-sky; and the glass in the road shimmered silver and green.  Just like the box – pouring sugar in the road.

And everyone was exactly where they needed to be.  We took what we needed and gave what we believed.  And we believed in everything.  On this island.  The stars shine the brightest, when out of view.

 

 

 

“My Newport-inspired extract was formed from my observations and experiences on Rhode Island in September 2012.  Fifteen years ago, I stumbled upon an album by a band, formed in Newport in the 1980s – Throwing Muses.  The record I first listened to was 1991’s The Real Ramona.  I since became absorbed in Tanya Donelly’s solo work and her own former band, Belly.  I am passionate about the universal magic of music, coincidence and serendipity – and how it can cross boundaries, bridge gaps and connect lives that would otherwise have seemingly gone unnoticed, or might never have collided.  I came to Newport for personal reasons – and, whilst not knowing what I would experience; the people I met, the conversations I had and the quiet moments I appreciated, helped me to reflect on my own place in the world – and to realise how, sometimes, the smallest gestures, events or memories can become more significant than we realise.  We’re all connected, I guess.”

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It’s Hard for a Star… Tanya Donelly Still Shines as Brightly as she Always Has.

27 Jul

557130_10151182229569736_535594263_nTanya, with her piercing, blue eyes has often been described as a Goddess (much to her own inability to accept this truth). Herself, expressing interest in mythology, spirituality and lives lived beyond her own immediate reality — these curiosities and empathies have somehow, inevitably, ended up intricately woven into her own music.

Her latest — and who knows, ultimate — series of work bears the name Swan Song Series. In Greek mythology, the swan is perceived to represent harmony and beauty. Plato has recognised the inclination that swans gravitate towards, at the end of their lives — to find their true, natural, singing voice.

Tanya’s Swan Song Series might be symbolic of her curtain-call. We hope not, but we presume, that this is something worth considering. As she sang in 2002’s The Storm, taken from Tanya’s second solo LP, Beautysleep, “I’m not finished yet, I’m under construction. You can peek behind the curtain if you like.”

Perhaps, now, her vulnerability can finally be entirely revealed, in this — her (who knows) final work. Tanya’s Swan Song.

On July 14th, 1966, Tanya was born in Newport, Rhode Island. The song to top the US charts in the week post-Tanya’s arrival into the world, was possibly enough to instill a sense of the demise of the music in the world around her – that she felt it her obligation to change this destiny. Tommy James and the Shondells gained success with the mass public with their hit Hanky Panky- yes, enough to make you run for the hills…

Step-sisters Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donelly began playing music together as fourteen year olds. Not so unusual, you might say. In their yards; in their friend’s yards; and eventually, hauling their gear across the Pell Bridge from Newport to Providence, to play in the rock clubs of their only city in the vicinity. Lupos Heartbreak Hotel would fill up (and sometimes not) with crowds of Brown University students who steadily showed their loyalty and appreciation for this music to have seemingly come from nowhere.

They sang about creepy scenarios, they wrote about religion and adultery; and blow-jobs and homosexuality. At fifteen, they had pretty much explicitly marked themselves out from the mainsream golden syrup pap of the American music industry of the time. Whilst Blondie, The Beatles and Dolly Parton were playing on the radio (not necessarily linked to the previous comment), Tanya and Kristin were focused on defining their own sound — a sound that can never be boxed in, categorised or analysed. Throwing Muses were born in a Doghouse and were expected to diminsh – but, three decades on and they’re still going strong (in their separate guises).imagesCA5RURID

UK based, Ivo Russell-Watts co-founded London independent record label, 4AD in 1979 alongside Peter Kent. Choosing only to represent artists who actively made your jaw clench and teeth grit (kinda, anyway); they signed bands including the Red House Painters, This Mortal Coil and the Cocteau Twins. Ivo called Kristin and Tanya up, somewhat out-of-the-blue and their (‘official’) debut LP, was released on 4AD records in 1986. Several records later, and a lot of on the road touring; Tanya and Kristin parted ways after their 1991 album,The Real Ramona. This record marks the end of an era and the start of a new journey for Tanya, who naturally, had remained in the shadows – choosing to contribute backing vocals, guitar and writing a number of songs and adding her melodic angelic vocals to the Throwing Muses records. Tanya wrote Green, The River, Honeychain and Pools in Eyes – and performed lead vocals on both Honeychain and hit single, Not Too Soon. They also covered the Beatles – Cry Baby Cry; and tried their luck at writing a sure-fire hit with Dizzy. Thankfully, they soon realised this was not where their hearts lay. Ultimately, the songs came from a place that we’ll never fully see or understand.

Shortly after leaving Throwing Muses in 1991, Tanya met up with Kim Deal of the Pixies and helped her to launch the Breeders’ career – writing and performing on several songs on their debut 1992 LP, Pod. The Beatles’ cover Happiness is a Warm Gun seduced listeners with Tanya’s feather-light and creepy-tinged vocals; Only in Threes and Do You Love Me Now? all went down the same route. Safari was their debut EP and Tanya and Kim wrote together in anticipation of their, now twenty years old, record Last Splash. However, Tanya left before this was created – and took her songs, that were largely intended to be the Breeders’ songs, with her. Forming her own band with brothers Tom and Chris Gorman of Rhode Island; and Fred Abong (later to be replaced by Leslie Langston and latterly, Gail Greenwood) – Belly sprung on to the scene in 1993 with their debut record, Star.

With album artwork by UK graphic artist Chris Bigg (also of V23 designs, the official logo of 4AD records, alongside Vaughan Oliver) Star featured plastic toy soldiers in the form of ballerinas. A dichotomy that sits grace next to strength – and beauty next to ugliness – it soon came to represent the value of the words and sounds

within the covers of the jewel case. Tanya always said, Belly was their name – because it can be both Pretty and Ugly. And just like this contradiction, Belly never wanted to be too easy to define.

Star received Grammy nominations and Gold status with its record sales. It also sent them into mainstream celebrity status when Tanya was asked by clothing outlet GAP if she would agree for them to use her song, Feed the Tree, on one of their advertising campaigns. Sales boomed; radio air-play caught on; interviews and promotion sky-rocketed and MTV plugged them in. In fact, Tanya and Gail presented an episode or two of MTV. Throwing Muses were always warmly welcomed on British soil and so the same definitely remained true for Tanya’s new band, Belly. Playing in rock clubs and dueting with Thom Yorke whilst on tour together, on the

track, Untogether – Tanya Donelly was no longer hiding in the shadows; but had been well and truly catapulted into the big bad world of stardom.

Star was recorded across two studios – Sound Emporium in Nashville and Amazon Studios (then known as) in Liverpool. Produced by Gil Norton, it harboured undisclosed desires; guilty pleasures and dark observations of life and the creeps who create it. Slow Dog was written partially about a Chinese proverb/myth that indicates that any person (woman) caught for adultery, must be made to carry a dead dog on her back through the streets. Likewise, Full Moon, Empty Heart, was written after a news story revealed that a woman had committed suicide by throwing herself from a sky-rise with her child. Not your everyday themes. And that’s what makes Tanya who she is.

Talking about her own EP, Corinne Bailey Rae covered Belly’s song: Low Red Moon: “Belly were one of the prime influences on my first band, Helen, where we had a real indie/DIY ethic. I was addicted to their album Star as a teenager and learnt loads about guitar playing just listening to them. They made me realise the most important thing in music was to express yourself and get your ideas across, without worrying about playing like a virtuoso.”

But as fickle as the business is, Belly folded shortly after their second album, released in 1995. King was not received as enthusiastically as Star – and the industry being the hit ‘n’ run driver that it seems to be; didn’t take many prisoners. Despite King being a more edgy, louder, and perhaps more political record – with its song, Super Connected (with a video to go with it, ripping apart the voyeuristic, exploitative sides of the music industry) voicing an honesty that was necessary.

Tanya and her band took this as their cue to leave.

A few years later, Tanya re-emerged as her own solo artist – releasing Lovesongs for Underdogs in 1997. She toured globally with this record and released EPs/singles of Pretty Deep and The Bright Light. Dean Fisher, Tanya’s husband featured on the record – as didBill Janovitz and Fuzzy members. Since 1997, Tanya has taken time out to become a mother to girls, Grace and Hattie – and to train and practice as a post-partum Doula. In between these responsibilities, Tanya has managed to write and record three full-length LPs (Beautysleep, 2002; Whiskey Tango Ghosts, 2004; This Hungry Life, 2007) and has contributed to many charity records released under the record label, American Laundromat Records (including covers of Neil Young, The Smiths and The Cure – alongside her friend and musician Brian Sullivan of Dylan in the Movies) as well as performing at many live events in her home-town area of Boston, with Bill Janovitz and other great musicians – in both a fundraising capacity and other guises – including British-born musician (now residing in NYC) John Wesley Stace and his Cabinet of Wonders shows. Tanya has also contributed vocals to friend, Bob Kendall’s own projects, with his band The Bob Kendall Band – in particular, on LP Midnight Flower.

And this is where it gets even more interesting: 2013, twenty years post-Star release, Tanya Donelly has just announced that she will be releasing a cluster of her new songs, as digital downloads via her official website (www.tanyadonelly.com) and as previews on Pandora Radio. Beginning on July 29th and officially beginning with a handful of songs to be made available for download starting on August 6th, Tanya’s new work includes collaborations with musicians, authors and comedians – including Cabinet of Wonders buddies Wesley Stace, proclaimed authors Mary Gaitskill and sonically-motivated writer and musician with the Wingdale Community Singers Rick Moody; as well as members of the Magnetic Fields – and Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz; Cornershop and Calexico – and, even, The Breeders.

Tanya Donelly is one of those artists who you will believe in and know right from the word go. Working alongside artist Sue McNally (artwork) and Naomi Yang (music film production), there are many reasons to look forward to Tanya’s new (albeit awesomely fragmented in its distribution) record. There is also a graphic novel in the works, a collaboration with friend and all-round talented artist, Louisa Bertman.

Who said that longevity was only orchestrated? This story is proof that longevity comes to those who wait. Two sisters thrown together through (perhaps) fate, never imagined how their lives might evolve. And not only did they stand the tugs of time and the conflicting tides, but they thrived. This year, sees Tanya emerge like

the butterfly she is – the beautiful creature who has sometimes slept a simmering slumber within her chrysalis shell. And this year, Kristin continues to write and perform with Throwing Muses, alongside Dave Narcizo and Bernard Georges – as well as her band Fifty Foot Wave and her own solo work. Kristin has also chosen her own way and rejected the ruling dictators by setting up her own listener-supported platform, CASH (alongside REM’s Michael Stipe and her husband and Manager, Billy O’Connell) – Kristin now releases a song per month via her website – funded by her listeners (aka Strange Angels).

Both Tanya and Kristin are now on Twitter, Facebook and also have their official websites where you can check in for news and interact with listeners who have loyally stuck by them, through their entire journey. There are no tours planned for Tanya as yet, but nobody knows what might happen…

(Written in anticipation of Tanya’s new work — a friend and inspiration to me — thank you).

Belly Floppin’ & Solo Sloggin’… Tanya’s Back in 2013.

9 Dec

p03278tk339Newport, Rhode Island – it’s a chic sort of town these days.  Super Yachts line the portside and wealthy Mainers drop in for long weekends to wine, dine and admire the cliffside mansions.  Head to Middletown and it’s a slightly different vibe.  Beyond the oldest Tavern in the USA and the Meeting House of Newport, lies a middle-ground, a sort of unnoticed community.  It is here, that two sisters got together – by circumstance, by blood-ties, by coincidence – whatever the reason: the result grew into Throwing Muses.  It is over three decades since Tanya Donelly and Kristin Hersh began writing and performing songs that would, at first listen, seem to have been plucked from the arse of Devil Obscura.  At just fourteen years old each, the lyrics and perceptions to come forth from these combined minds, mouths and fingers, are testament that experience and imagination are two of the same – just separated by a blurry line – a visceral, subjective sense that noone could lay claim to unveil.imagesCAOM26D5

Releasing their first EP in 1984, Stand Up – and then a full-length LP in 1986 (untitled debut), they would regularly ship themselves and their gear, over the bridge and into the bright lights of the city of Providence, Rhode Island – to play shows to tiny, sometimes, non-existent audiences.  Kristin always took the reins in the early days – with Tanya opting to act in a supporting role, and contributing to a handful of songs on each record.  Tanya’s vocals and songwriting soon stood out as melodic as opposed to dischordant; sensuous and just – more – accessible.  She wrote Green, Pools in Eyes and River.  Later on, with the 1991 release of The Real Ramona (to be their final, official Throwing Muses record with both Kristin and Tanya together), Tanya held her own on Honeychain – and of course, Not Too Soon.  Ultimate track, Two Step also carried their weights equally and beautifully.

So, it is now verging on 2013 and where has life taken Tanya, post-Throwing Muses and Belly days?

It would be too easy to say that she has taken the path most travelled by some peers who have given up the full-time Rock Chick thing in favour of a steady income, a mortgage and a knitting company.  But that wouldn’t be entirely true.  Ok, so Kelley Deal (The Breeders) has created her own scarf and knitting business which seems to be going down very well with rock fans and those not, alike.  But what of Tanya Donelly, the woman who dueted with Thom Yorke of Radiohead; the girl who flashed her backside (go Tanya!) on national British television on Later With Jools; and topped most billboard charts with her Belly hit, Feed The Tree?

She got the mortgage.  She got the (beautiful) kids.  She is yet to start her own knitting business.  Well, two out of three ain’t bad, right?!

In all seriousness – Tanya Donelly has evolved over the years to become the songwriter and performer that she probably always was, once the glitz and glamour of the Belly days were stripped away.  Never one for the superficial fame lifestyle – choosing instead to focus on the fleeimagesCAVV14S1ting moments in our lives that actually mean something – mean something, in real life.  Being a Mother, practicing as a post-partum Doula, and writing music that you believe in.

1997’s release of Lovesongs For Underdogs retained much of the volume of the previous Belly records, Star (released on Sire in 1993) and King (released in 1995) but ventured into what, it turns out, would be a pre-cursor for Tanya’s later, solo work.  Manna, Mysteries of the Unexplained and Swoon all showed these qualities – that of vulnerability and soul that you might miss, in the harder, faster, obscure work from both Belly, the Breeders and Throwing Muses.  But that’s not to say it wasn’t there… It always was.  You just had to be open to it.imagesCA5RURID

Tanya has never wanted to make it too easy on us – what would be the point, otherwise?  Shrouded in mystery, covered in honey, peppered with gruesome – her lyrics have always alluded to the strange, the fantasy and the untangible parts of ourselves that we dare not touch.  It’s what makes her who she is – and Belly who they were.

But where does this leave her today?

2012 has been a year of sporadic live shows in the New England region of east-coast America – with Tanya hooking up with Buffalo Tom pal, Bill Janovitz for several charity shows – including a Hot Stove, Cool Music fundraiser for young people in the USA in need of shelter (you can catch the next one in Boston on January 12th, 2013) and a benefit for The Children’s Room back in December 2011.  She has also been a significant part of renewing the old ways of recording – taking part in a live recording on an Edison Phonograph – when cylinders were used to record voice.  Apart from this, Tanya has been appearing with author, Rick Moody (author of The Ice Storm; Garden State; and recently, On Celestial Music) with collaborations between song and prose – their work together can be heard in the near future (more details to follow).  She is also working on a graphic novel with Cambridge/Boston-based artist, Louisa Bertman – due for serial release sometime in 2013.  Also in the pipeline for 2013: A brand new album – or installments of the new album – from Tanya.  The record is said to be an amalgamation of Tanya’s own solo work, alongside talented friends and musicians, authors and poets. 

There have also been recordings of Stevie Wonder, Tom Waits, Neil Young and the Smiths covers…  As well as a recent live-streamed show from Cambridge, MA – which saw Tanya branch into the Jazz genre and demonstrate her incredible ability to do justice to whatever challenge comes her way.  It seems as though Throwing Muses and Belly were only a slice of what Tanya can do – and perhaps the rest, and the best, is yet to come.

The tail-end of 2013 will see Tanya perform with friends and musicians, The Magnetic Fields (brainchild of Stephin Merritt along with Claudia Gonson and buddies) at NYC’s First Night celebrations on December 31st.  I couldn’t, personally, think of a better way in which to see the new year in…

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As for sister, Kristin – she is busy recording the latest Throwing Muses album – as well as side project 50 Foot Wave.  She remains steadfast with drummer Dave Narcizo and bassist Bernie Georges and there are plans for shows in 2013, too.  She is also working on (several) books – and of course, you can still get a copy of Rat Girl (Paradoxical Undressing) – her autobiographical novel.

Tanya’s official website is currently under construction – but check in at: www.tanyadonelly.com for more information and updates.

Kristin’s official website can be accessed at: www.kristinhersh.com

Jazz on the Rocks…

19 Oct

Tanya did it for the kids.  Now she’s doing it for the adults.  Moon River oozed sophistication on the kid’s compilation, Sing Me To Sleep (released on American Laundromat Records); and it seems that was literally just a breath of what the former Belly front-woman and Throwing Muse can do – when it comes to a bit of soulful jazz.

Jazz on the Rocks, streamed live across the internet and coming right out of a sultry kind of venue in Kendall Square, Cambridge – reached me, sleepy yet wide-eyed – at 1am this Friday morning.  8pm for the east-coasters.

On Tanya’s second solo album, Beautysleep – released in 2002; she sang on single, The Storm – “I’m not finished yet, I’m under construction.  You can peek behind the curtain if you like.”  I for one, am glad the curtain is lifting and we’re a part of her construction – tonight, she has grown into her skin and it seems the days of singing of dead dogs; decapitated dolls and fish raining from the sky – are long behind her.

I kind of hope not, though.

Still – dressed all in black; she is unimposing – not alike many female jazz vocalists preceding her – but that’s exactly what makes Tanya Donelly so real; and probably why she has a loyal gaggle of listeners who are sticking around today, just like in the earlier days.

Talking of gaggle – Wally Gagel – aka Production Club – collaborated with Tanya a few years back on the poppy tune, Devil’s Kiss.  “When the clocks stop, that’s the beating of my heart that you feel going tick-tock…”  Tanya breathes.  There have always been the clues peppered across Tanya’s vocals right from the start – and tonight, it feels as though it is a personal and professional challenge to this artist who began her career as guitarist and backing vocals to step-sister Kristin Hersh, in their band Throwing Muses.  As fourteen year olds, they were both writing lyrics off-beat to the mainstream – and with songs such as The River; Green and Pools in Eyes – all written by Tanya – they always stood out as having some otherworldly, visceral sense to them.  As though a child were channeling the wisdom of the world through her baby-toned lyrics.

There was nothing child-like about tonight’s Jazz on the Rocks performance, though – and, faced by a room full of friends, strangers and in-betweeners – not to mention invisible webcams broadcasting the entire show internationally – Tanya stood, centre stage, holding her mic – and took the entire world on a journey through time.  Back to a time of cigarettes; smoky saloons and seduction – and possibly forward to the journey she herself now sees herself as naturally moving into.  To the onlooker, to me, it was a really beautiful combination of reinvention; self-presentation; and glamification (if that’s not a word, it is now).

It goes to show – the artist we loved because of her dark and abstract lyrics; because of her silky and surprising vocals; and because of her truly genuine and warm personality – is most definitely still under construction.  If we are prepared to let go of the musical artist she once was, perhaps we’ll get a peek behind the curtain at the amazing, beautiful work still to come from Tanya Donelly.  Let’s hope so.

Listen to your Belly…

28 Sep

Listen to your Belly…

If you’re reading the new, glossy Phoenix, chances are you are also a bit dedicated to local musical talent. But what about when the music runs out?  What’s left to nourish our souls?  Plenty, in this city…

Let’s face it; Boston and Cambridge combined have enough eateries to satisfy even the pickiest of grazers.  So how does one navigate this ginormous Gastro Ghetto?  Do we follow the sense of smell?  Perhaps jogging after the scents of burgers in Fenway; or cycling after the aromas of the Cheesecake Factory?

We think not.

Instead, try listening to your Belly.  Metaphorically and literally.

They say that music evokes in us a sense of nostalgia and intense emotion – unlike many other stimuli.  And there is no better way than to take the sound advice of early 90’s band, Belly, fronted by Boston-based (formerly Rhode Island) singer-songwriter and guitarist, Tanya Donelly.

It occurred to us that the tunes of Belly can be nourishment for the stomach as well as the soul.

Take the following playlist – and see where it might lead you…

  • Hot Burrito #1 – head to Anna’s Taqueria, first opened in 1995, it now has six locations.  Stop by and eat Mexican – the local way.  Check their website at: www.annastaqueria.com Music venues close by: Toad (Porter Square).
  • Sweet RideKick Ass Cupcakes located in Davis Square support local farmers and have the funkiest flavours around – including Green Monster (with a luxury stout cream frosting and centre); The Mojito (for those who like a drop of rum); and Limited Edition Lotus Blossom (lychee, lime and pear).  Catch their Sweet Ride (aka travellin’ truck) out on the streets of Boston, Cambridge and Somerville.  Website: www.kickasscupcakes.com Music venues close by: Johnny D’s (Davis Square); The Burren (Davis Square).
  • Feed The TreeJoshua Tree on Elm Street, Davis Sq. offers Mon – Fri Happy Hours with $1 small plates of grub; an enticing selection of American nosh including Pork Belly Skewers, Sweet Chili Short Ribs; as well as popular belly-fillers, Fish ‘n’ Chips; and Mexican-inspired favourites Nachos and Quesadillas.  Brunch is served on Saturday and Sunday between the hours of 10.30am – 2pm.  The bar itself is a lively sort of place – equally visited by sports fans as music fans as those who just want to enjoy good food, a beer and great company.  www.joshuatreesomerville.com Music venues close by: Somerville Theatre (Davis Square).
  • The BeesFollow the Honey just off Harvard Sq. in Cambridge, is committed to sharing all honey-inspired products with anyone who happens to curiously peep through their basement windows.  Supporting neighbouring and local independent businesses, this is an experience in itself – offering raw, untreated honey; honey-filled chocolate truffles; and they even stock local supplier Iggy’s Breads for you to slather your honey on.  Check out the rescued Happy Hive which now rests safely in the store.  Website at: www.followthehoney.com Music venues close by: Club Passim (Harvard Square).
  • StarCafé Luna in Central Square boasts the Best Chai in Central.  Try it for yourself and see if it’s really true (“I hope it’s true…” – Seal My Fate – Belly).  Specialty salads; Flatbreads; and a varied selection of wines and beers to suit all tastes – and budgets.  Check their latest news at: www.cafeluna-centralsq.com Music venues close by: Cantab Lounge (Central Square).
  • Spaceman – Snuggling up closely to Harvard Square’s intimate music venue, Club Passim; this vegetarian eatery is popular with locals and music listeners – Veggie Planet is back in full business and offers a colourful and exotic menu including pizzas made by Haley House Bakery Cafe dough – which satisfies your appetite and sustains and supports a local cause to raise awareness of underemployed folks in the Roxbury, Jamaica Plain neighbourhood.  At almost 55 years old, Club Passim has been the heart and soul of the local music blood-stream, and we hope it continues along this vein for many years to come.  For food:  www.veggieplanet.net   And for upcoming live music and show listings, head to: www.clubpassim.org  Music venues close by: Club Passim (Harvard Square).
  • Full Moon, Empty Heart Full Moon Restaurant in Cambridge, caters for adults and kids alike (and those in that visceral space in between).  Conceived in 1997, it remains steadfast today and offers internationally-inspired dishes including Norway Eggs; Catalan and Spanish infused Grilled Chorizo; and this family-run business supports local causes, independent businesses and artists.  Their contact details can be located at: www.fullmoonrestaurant.com  Music venues close by: The Brattle Theatre (Harvard Square).
  • Slow Dog – It has to be Boston Super Dog with their anything-but-slow Speed Dog Truck; you can literally grab a Dog anywhere across the city.  Try the Charred Grilled Pastrimi; or if you’re feeling adventurous, the Tempura Battered Pickles.  Intrigued?  We are!  Check their location and opening hours at: www.bostonsuperdog.com Music venues close by: Midway Café (Jamaica Plain).
  • RedAddis Red Sea on Tremont Street was established in 1988 and now has two locations across Boston and Cambridge (Mass. Ave).  You would have to try hard to discover authentic Ethiopian cuisine apart from here.  With a welcoming and warm atmosphere, it’s a place to feel at home with good friends and food: www.addisredsea.com  Music venues close by: The Lizard Lounge (Between Harvard Square and Porter).
  • SilverfishBarking Crab has restaurants here in Boston as well as Newport, Rhode Island.  With a tag line, reading: “Because everyone should have crabs!” it’s clear that they don’t worry about catching nasty infections from strangers – or from their name, madness, insanity or silliness.  Head to their establishment for a friendly vibe, amazing shellfish and seafood; and come out better (and fatter) for it.  Trust us.  Key Lime Pie and Chocolate Torte is a must-have.  Think clam-shack on stilts in the ocean – coupled with local and lively music – and you’re almost there.  Head to the waterfront and to their website: www.barkingcrab.com Music venues close by: Bank of America Pavilion.

  • Untitled and Unsung – No Name Restaurant on Boston’s Waterfront serves fresh clams, lobster, chowder and everything in between.  Unpretentious; unrivalled location and with a history behind spanning back to 1917; No Name Restaurant is a less wacky alternative to Barking Crab.  Check their website for interesting facts, menus and a history lesson (all this and more) – www.nonamerestaurant.com Music venues close by: Bank of America Pavilion.

  • Diamond Rib Cage – Fenway Park’s Sweet Cheeks has restrooms with framed photos of Marilyn Monroe, Blondie and Elvis – not to mention toilet brush warmers.  But enough of the toilet humour – it might put you off your grub.  The food here is big, meaty and goes down great with a local beer.  Rustic, beefy tables and bar-stools litter the barn-like space, and old Americana power-ballads fill the air.  Go to: www.sweetcheeksq.com Music venues close by: Fenway Park (Fenway).
  • Think About Your TroublesThinking Cup located just off Boston Common is the place to go if you want to free yourself of technology; internal clutter and replace it with tea – lots of it – and conversation.  Throw a few cupcakes into the equation and Stumptown Coffee (originally established in Portland, Oregon) – and you’ll feel almost human again.  www.thinkingcup.com Music venues close by: The Orpheum Theatre (Boston Common area).
  • Baby’s Arm – This city has numerous kid-friendly restaurants, but you would do much worse than to check out Davis Square’s Flatbread which also happens to conveniently be attached to a bowling alley, too.  With ten locations outside of Boston, it has gained a reputation for simple, honest, wood-fired flatbreads served in an informal, vibrant surrounding.  The ideal place to take the kids for a birthday party; or the adults for a beer-‘n’-pizza night.  Fun and friendly staff to boot.  Have a look for yourself: www.flatbreadcompany.com Music venues close by: The Davis Theatre (Davis Square).
  • John Dark – Finally reopened for business after its summer closure for refurbishment, Harvard Square’s John Harvard Brewery & Ale House has been serving locally brewed beers for over twenty years.  Born out of part myth, partial history – this brewery does justice to a renowned scholar; celebrating literature, Shakespeare and a legacy of craft beer.  The food is traditional, homely and substantial – check it out: www.johnharvards.com

  • GepettoMiracle of Science on Massachusetts Avenue serves up dishes by their corresponding chemical element – in a great location and staffed by zesty kind of folk – ‘geek chic’ is their aim in life.  Suits us!  www.miracleofscience.us Alternatively, for a slightly less tenuous link to Belly’s ‘Gepetto’ – you could head to Pinocchio’s Pizza and Subs in Harvard Square.  Serving up pizza and subs for over thirty years – they do a mean Sicilian Slice – www.pinocchiospizza.net

  • Judas Mon CoeurPetite Robert Bistro off Kenmore Square offers true French cuisine, under the trustful guidance of Brittany-Born chef.  Building on the authentic notion of a ‘Bistro’ which is a place where, historically, workers went to dine on a budget – this French-inspired bistro is a tucked-away place worth discovering.  With a courtyard and a varied menu – this is a lovely place to spend a warm evening (best wait until spring, then!) www.petiterobertbistro.com  Music venues close by: House of Blues (Fenway Park).
  • AngelThe Parish Café takes its name from an admired author and book, Love in the Time of Cholera.  But don’t let that put you off.  Keeping it simple – working with good, local, honest ingredients – it’s the place to go if you are looking for a hearty kind of sandwich to fill a gap in your belly.  Locations in South End and Back Bay.  Website here: www.parishcafe.com

  • Every WordTrident Booksellers and Café is situated on infamous Newbury Street just a few streets parallel with the Charles River.  Catch a free Cooking Demo whilst nibbling on a homemade flapjack or slurping down a bowl of Noodle Ramen.  Eclectic and inviting – you’ll be welcome, just as the next person will be: www.tridentbookscafe.com

Let your ears find the music that will find the food that will fill your belly – and nourish your soul.

Local bands – local grub – local music venues – it’s all about the local.

 

Like Butterflies, We Float…

14 Sep

Sometimes, we don’t know where we’re headed until we get there.  Like a book cover, we’re drawn to it by the vibrancy of the image, a picture that resonates with us or simply because it catches our eye.  We’ll take a shot in the dark; a chance; a risk – and in doing so, we’ll replace a different story back on its shelf (that could have been our own).

In some ways, this is how I happened upon the Burlington Hostel, on Main Street in Vermont’s northern town, on the banks of Lake Champlain.  Walking down the hill from the Megabus stop, I passed beneath a canopy of trees, stretching the entire street.  On the way to the waterfront, strangers wearing hemp, kids carrying skateboards and students with daisies in their hair greeted me as though they had been expecting me.  When I stepped through the doors of the hostel, I actually was expected and was just as warmly greeted by Olga, our host.

The brochure offers a welcome to ‘gentle guests’ especially, and this is mimicked by the ‘no footwear’ rule which also translates to the clean, airy and instinctive feel of the building.  Olga leads me to the front dorm which is sunny and light.  There aren’t many dorms in the entire hostel and each one is separated by a simple, canvas curtain.  Breakfast serves warm waffles with maple syrup (harvested during Vermont’s Sugaring Season) and freshly brewed coffee on tap.  Real butter melts comfortingly over the criss-cross layers of foamy, crisped-up batter.

There’s a real family atmosphere and often I would arrive in at the (granny-like) hour of 9pm after a day of window-shopping on Church Street, Creemee Licking on the waterfront, and lake swimming bliss – to find a living-room spattered with individuals reading, emailing or napping.  Crowded, sometimes, but never cluttered – and always space to breathe.

Burlington Hostel is a bolt-hole for anyone at a crossroads in their life.  Just a short walk from Lake Champlain and the main hub of Church Street, it is also a place which seems to intuitively read its guests and somehow magnetise just the right amount of conversation, company or people, towards each one.  It somehow knows what we all need.  For me, it meant crossing paths with like-minded people from all across the globe – sharing stories, encouraging and recognising our own talents and ambitions. 

I was fortunate to meet Chip, a warm-hearted motorcyclist and massage-therapist from Vermont; Leah, a former Finland-footstepper and writer from California; Steve, an awesome and infectious lighthearted spirit working with kids at the YMCA.  Also Annalouise, a NYFA graduate with an open smile and hopeful attitude to life, like noone else I had met.  Then there was Ashlee from Dallas in Texas whom I shared a couple of insightful breakfast chats with.  Last but not least, our hosts – Olga and Brian – who were kind, helpful and even sent me on my way with a glass bottle of real, pure, Vermont maple syrup – an amazing gift.  Add to this, the generous (with conversation) strangers whom I came into contact with, throughout my five days in Burlington, and it’s no wonder I ‘accidentally on purpose’ missed my bus back – and decided to postpone it for the following day!

As the man on the beach said, walking with his two dogs, as we looked across the jagged, soft edges of the Green Mountains – “I want to see as many sunsets as possible…”

It seemed that most people in this town are on some sort of spiritual journey, and, by chance, I stumbled across a slab of marbled rock on the beach which simply had the following words inscribed, in permanent ink:  “Trust the universe has a plan for you.  You are right where you need to be.”

And, as I drank Americano in a local cafe, with a new friend with red, rosy cheeks and a lust for life that radiated to everyone he met, thinking about leaving this town – he said a few words, “Perhaps, you timed it just right…”

Hummingbirds and Butterflies…

8 Sep

Whilst swimming at dusk in a lake off the western coast of Finland, something that sent vibrations through the otherwise glassy surface, struggled to capture its space.  As the Finnish woman swam closer to the fountain of freshwater spray, she extended a hand – and then a single finger – for the tiny winged creature to rest.  As she swam, one-handed, back to the shore, she kept its body above the water.

Hummingbirds are said to carry all our hopes and dreams on their wings.

Lei lived her life on the outside.  Observing and collecting energies from the people and places she passed through.  The world wasn’t crazy if she could write it – nothing could surprise and she could change the story whenever she felt like it.  But she forgot to seeReally see.  The transparency of her own skin.

Butterflies floated everywhere.  Gathering up essences and sending them back into the atmosphere when their wings could no longer carry them.

She believed that the universe was exactly as it was intended to be.  That everything she needed was there for her.  And if it wasn’t, she was just being gently nudged towards her true path.  More than fate.  She believed in the resignation of destiny.

**********

A pigeon appeared through the opening of the fence bars and distorted her view.  The mountains seemed small in comparison.  Everything, after all, was relative.  With no idea of the purpose of this bird, she didn’t care and knew nothing of the last place it rested its clipped wings.  All she saw, was what was before her, at this very moment.  Nothing else mattered.

On the bench neighbouring her, a couple sat eating sandwiches and bananas over clingfilm napkins across their laps.  Turning their faces towards the lake, and further across the mountains, they too, spotted the pigeon.

“It’s not the everyday sort of pigeon,” remarked the man, as the shimmering oil-opaqueness shone from its breast.

The three people sat, all musing over this creature before them.

Messenger pigeons often head southward from the Canadian mountains – and, like homing pigeons, they are magnetised back to the place where they belong.

The Norwegian couple existed here – but their pasts stretched further – beyond these borders and back to the memories of home.  Outliving one of three sons; the passive, gentle demeanour of Molfrida seemed resigned – but her blue, blue eyes told another story.  Meeting in the middle of two mountain ranges, their souls met.  And here we were, hugging our ‘laters’ on the shore of Lake Champlain, just as the pigeon flew off.

It just might be time to emigrate homeward.

Sucking on Lobster Shells in Maine…

28 Aug

So I spent half my remaining August rent on a train ticket to Maine.  (Another) day off, so I was adamant I was not going to spend it aimlessly wandering around Boston and Cambridge, ducking in and out of coffee shops, Starbucks-Hopping in search of a bit of inspiration that might wing itself my way – similar to the faux-crutches (that’s crutches) propping up men in the alleyways of Fenway, demanding a dollar to be flung in their direction so that they can get wildly drunk and allow several bombshells to take advantage of them (their words, not mine).

A short bus ride from the train station, and already Portland feels different to Boston – despite both being technically ‘New England’.  With a bus full of pensioners and one man who sat in front of me who had the face of a ten year old, with his eyes anxiously absorbing his surroundings, just waiting to be reprimanded; I could gaze out of the window whilst making conversation with a woman in a sun-visor, and not fear my outer shell cracking into uncool territory.  Portland seems less showy, more itself – I guess it’s smaller, and whilst there is clearly a lot of wealth from the sights around the harbour, there is also a really accepting kind of vibe.  Not that Boston doesn’t have it – it does – but sometimes all you want is to sit on a wall, legs swinging, notebook on your lap, and no obligation to smile or make conversation.

Getting off the bus near Pearl Street (New England loves its Pearl Streets, Milk Streets and Dana Streets) I stopped in at Rosemont Produce in the hope that they would give me cash-back…  Amongst various colourful (sometimes funky in this heat) fruit and veg, there was also Japanese Saki – with a very cool, magic (even) looking glass bottle – imported but distributed by a company in Massachusetts – ripe avocadoes and mangoes for $1.99, medjool dates, fresh olive bread and home-baked pizza slices.  For the sum of $5 I walked away with a bottle of ooh-la-la-long peach tea, a mango, a tub of dried mango strips and a juicy white peach.  And an actual $5 note for my next twelve hours in this capital Maine city.

Next thought on my mind spanned as far as finding the nearest people-free patch of solitude from which to contemplate my picnic.  Sociable?  Not me, clearly.

So, what’s a girl to do in Portland, Maine, on a $5 budget and almost half a spin of the earth, of time to utilise until the train pulled up and took her back to the southern city of Boston?

Sunbathing and yacht-gazing might cost nothing but it soon wears thin.  I wandered through the Freedom Trail, down some steps, past two red-faced presumably Bostonians, sporting bright red caps bearing the letter B (too much Sesame Street, kids?) and matching polo-shirts, and found myself at sea-level.  Reminding me somewhat of Plymouth, Devon in England – I stopped to take a couple of photos before my camera decided to deplete of power on me, and put my best (holey) flip-flop forward.

The path was studded with what seemed to be silver shrapnel which twinkled (literally like day-stars) in the sunlight.  Tick Box – song lyric inspiration partially achieved.  A few yards up the path, towards downtown, I passed by the Polar Express, stowed up and looking sorry for itself.  Steam trains have a fond place in this here heart, I tell you.  Maybe it’s the memories of steam-train rides as kids, up in Shrewsbury, Shropshire – and days when I happily donned a shaggy, cropped elfin hairdo along with a pink flannelette jumper and an equally dodgy grin-come-smirk across my mischief-face.  A place to hide.  Confuse those onlookers who thought they could judge my character just ’cause I was half-pint sized.  Sweet?  Sour?  Both.  Perhaps it was the memories of a steam-train ride through Bellows Falls, Vermont – in the summer of 2003 – sharing a carriage with possibly a singer-songwriter who will forever influence my own soundtrack to life.

This Polar Express was the venue for a young Mainer getting married – and as I walked past, we exchanged massive smiles.  No better place, overlooking the sailboats in the harbour on a cloud-free day…

There are abundant ways you might wish to spend your hours in Portland, Maine – even if you are a bit of a loner, like I happened to be.  A poor, lonely, Brit.  Well – don’t let it stop you, folks!

You could always host a competition to spot the most non-PC sign (unintentionally) – I’d win, hands down, with ‘Benkay’s Sushi’ just off Commercial Street – ‘WE SERVE BROWN RICE’ – if Human Rights for white pudding rice were around, there’d likely be some sue-ing of the Sushi guys, going on.  As if it’s not enough that  the blessed grains are short and dumpy and suffer from water-retention – they’re even being ousted in favour of their brown counterparts.  But it’s Maine, darlings – there ain’t none of that BS here.

Wandering to the ferry port I meandered in and out of several premium businesses that would be in the Purple District if this were a Monopoly board.  Le Roux Kitchen and Homewares stocked ‘arty’ napkins, olive wood honey-twizzlers for $7.99, painted exotic fish corn prongs for $5.99, Lobster aprons and tea-towels (deceivingly Maine-ish, but actually sourced from China or India).

Enough of the boring tourist-talk…

Whilst Portland is fairly chilled, laid-back and doesn’t aim to be glitzy nor glamourous – it hasn’t totally stuck to its guns as far as individuality goes.  For a start, there are the usual chain-infections cropping up like a case of herpes – such as Dunkin’ Donuts and Life Is Good (although I have nothing, whatsoever against that store – they host an awesome summer music festival each year to raise money for kids).

One thing I did pay special attention to was the abundance of ATM machines, tastefully submerged within the red brick of old mills, factories and fish stores – as anti-corporate as they might look, yet fees still applied – sending my sorry cash card over the edge – so much so, my fiver really was all I had to survive off, all day.  The horror.  It serves me right, let’s face it.

You could get a beer for under $5 if you make like a true Brit and remain stingy on the tipping front (but I’d not recommend this, seeing as servers make a base rate of less than $2 per hour in most cases).  I did walk past a pub on Commercial Street, advertising Mimosas (is that a drink??) for $3 during their 3 – 7pm Happy Hour.  I could, however, have bought a bag of crinkle chips – sour cream ‘n’ onion – for $1.29 and still had change.  And, I’d have got to meet Mad Mo (I named her that) Master of Paninis.  It looked as though she had lived in that store for years…it looked like that store had lived in her for years…

In the end I settled for ice cream from a corner store parallel to the front main-street.  Carrying away my lime gloop – sorbet with lime peel mixed into it – I sat on a wall, perched my mango in the sunshine and waited for it to ripen…  Having said that, it could be like waiting for a crazy cat lady or a west-witch to be stung with the fertility bee.

A lucky spot, it turns out.  Just opposite Berlin Wall, with the Lucky Catch tugboat to my left – and Portland Lobster Co. in front of me, I listened to over an hour of live music, bare feet up on the dock railings, mosquito bites scratched and bloody.  The band was pretty fly – with covers of Fleetwood Mac (Nicks era) ‘Landslide’ and Matchbox 22 (well they can’t help that).

Another method in absorbing Maine without parting with cash – is to people-watch.  Just behind me, a wife said to her white-socketed, jesus-sandalled husband, with bony knees, in a thick Louisiana accent – “Just look at her tiles, honey!”  It sounded so sexual, so naive, and so, totally superficial and pointless – I couldn’t help but steal it for a future book character.

The history of Maine revolves around its port and fishing trade, I gather.  Most original buildings remain, and you could, if you are feeling geeky, spend your time photographing (mentally, if you are like me and forgot to charge up your camera before leaving home) the old signs on the tops of the red-brick buildings.  Then, all it takes is a bit of imagination and you can almost zip yourself back to a time before gelato, plastic lobsters and Becky’s Diner (although to be honest, that Diner is the real-deal and hopefully existed long before tourism did).

I wandered past some market vendors and got chatting to a water-colour artist and jewellery designer named Vallerie (wished I’d remembered her surname as he stuff was beautiful) – self-taught, and from a family of water-colour artists, her work was simple and pretty – with bubbles of aqua marine, oxygen drops and underwater scenes and starfish.  An intuitive talent.

Last, but not least, it’s an essential past-time of Mainers during summertime, to compare and contrast tan-levels on a scale not dissimilar to the Richter (I’m sure some bum-tan-lines could cause natural disasters).  Hands down, no question (or hands up if you’re the Hells Angel rider), the Harley riders have it in the bag.

Magic – Demo.

24 Aug

A Song About Eggs…Or Metaphors…

20 Aug
Come on over here
crack my head
across the counter
watch the shell fall
like Humpty fell off the wall
And now that my yolk
is dripping down my sides
in come the flies
with their microscopes
magnifying misplaced hopes
So you thought you caught a bad egg
well I guess that’s how I hatched
and nothing’s transluscent
beauty’s dented
like the oyster shell
like the matted opal
you never can tell
And now that my yolk
is dripping down my sides
in come the flies
with their microscopes
magnifying misplaced hopes 

 

Peel me too soon
I shatter in my glass room
and the voice that was mine
rings truest to you