August 20, 2005.
It’s dawning on me that I fly to Addis Ababa tomorrow.
A big reason that I’m going is just so I could type that sentence: Tomorrow I fly to Addis Ababa. Romantic. But of course I think the same thing I think whenever I go, alone, on a trip like this, to a strange place: WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?
I’ll spend two nights and a day in London on my way home. I scheduled it that way mostly so I could gorge on English Breakfasts, which I believe to be the pinnacle of British Civilization. I lived there for a year, and loved it, loved the atmosphere, and the Limeys: I’m staying up near Ladbroke Grove, which was my haunt.
I flew to Seattle on Friday to play a show on Alki Beach on Sunday evening. What was unusual was that they hired local musicians to be my band.
I was skeptical. I felt like Chuck Berry. But the band was great. Paul Kemmish on upright bass, Kevin Sawka on drums, Michael Stegner on Rhodes and Nord Lead. Man, they picked up the tunes fast. We did a set of—seventeen songs? Something like that. And only three rehearsals. Wow. I was impressed.
It was great to be in Seattle. One of my favorite cities. New York was awash in sticky hurricane gloom, but the Pacific Northwest was gorgeous, blue skies and temperate air. I walked around Capitol Hill, I had amazing Tom Kha Gai at a couple Seattle Thai places (Seattle is great for Thai places), I had a Caffe Caramel at Vivace on Broadway. The little stand there. Such great coffee.
I stayed on Lake Union. There was a boat sitting on the harbor, a steamer or a tugboat or some other romantic class of boat. A big red hull with SWIFTSURE in giant white letters across the length of it.
I walked around Seattle Center–under the Space Needle–and ran across a huge inflatable movie screen and a lawn of people watching the very beginning of THE TWO TOWERS. I thought, well, I’ll watch a minute of this. And I was hooked for the, what is it, nineteen hour length of the flick. Got slightly aggravated at the long passages of, like, “I am Glubahooba of Glabbababba, son of Sweebaswabba, and I have crossed the Smamamama and the great hills of Boobalooba…” Etc. But I identify so strongly with the Gollum/Smiegel struggle, and that all-encompassing love of a substance–“My precious!”–that’s me. So powerful.
Watching a movie outdoors, as elevators glided up and down the Space Needle, looming over us on the lawn. On a beautiful cool night.
Sunday. The gig site was right on the pebbly beach. It was dusk, and the sun was going down behind the hilly islands across the bay. A cloud hung there refracting the light, and it shot out perfectly in even rays, like the prongs on the crown of the Statue of Liberty. It was like Jesus was hanging out behind there.
I was walking around the vendors’ area and I came across a tent for a company called Utilikilts. A man wearing a skirt walked up to me and brazenly asked, “EXCUSE ME, SIR! Are READY to wear a KILT?!” No, not ready. Working on it, thanks.
The sky went orange, and pink, and purple; the water was golden. Ferries were crossing it, elegant shadowy hulks. Onstage, I could see the Space Needle in the distance as I sang.
We opened the show with “Sweet Francis” from the Evenhand soundtrack. It’s a jungle beat, and Sawka’s a jungle specialist–I believe he actually started playing the drums because he was a rave kid and wanted to embody drum and bass itself. It rocked.
There was a guy in front that enthusiastically shouted, “Don’t play any Soul Coughing! Only solo stuff! ONLY SOLO STUFF!!” Um, thanks? The guy looked kind of sad when I played “Circles.”
We had a hard stop time of 10:00 due to a noise ordinance. Cee-Lo ran long, so me and my most excellent band were racing the clock. But finally we finished. I jumped out to do an encore–I did “Madeline,” because I met a girl who had come to the show having no idea who I was, she just heard a burned CD of tracks from my Live in Minneapolis album while firing pottery, and loved that song. But just as I was singing the last verse, the organizers were furiously running their hands across their throats in a motion of, “Cut! Cut!”
I thought at first that I could make it to that finally coda stretch, but then I realized that I couldn’t make it, and I said into the mic, They’re gonna cut me off! And the crowd cheered. And the guys motioned, Cut! Cut! And I kept going, and the crowd cheered! And as the cop took the stage to cut the sound, the crowd cheered! And I kept playing. Finally the sound was cut. To tremendous applause.
I sought out the cop to apologize afterward. His name–really–was Officer Neveready.
One more thing. Adam, one of the organizers, who ferried me to and from the rehearsals from my hotel, told me a story about Nairobi and the Fake Police.
Adam went to Nairobi. Everyone warned him to Beware the Fake Police. The guidebook, the hotel staff, the kids in the market: Beware the Fake Police. So he was walking around, and a guy came up to him and said, I’m from Uganda, can you help me get to the States. He had a weird vibe, so Adam declined and kept moving. Then a man came up to him in a three-piece suit. He flashed a badge. You must come with me! That man is a fugitive. Were you in cahoots? I must take you in for questioning.
Adam pretended he’d forgotten English. The Fake Cop followed him around for half an hour, pleading, You must come with me! My boss will be angry with me! (What kind of cop pleads trouble from his boss?) Adam ignored him.
Finally the Fake Cop said, Fine! You go! And stormed off in a huff.
Beware the Fake Police.
“It is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.”
from the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
So I bought a ticket to Ethiopia. I’m leaving a couple days after I return from my Seattle show. Why am I going? I think mostly because as a kid I loved the sound of “Addis Ababa.” (the capital city) And the Amharic alphabet is extremely cool-looking. (it’s been recommended to me to search out an Amharic typewriter–apparently a quite wondrous contraption)
They also have very spongy bread.
(These are also the reasons that begat my love affair with Cambodia–the sound of “Phnom Penh,” the look of the beautiful Khmer alphabet, the opportunity to hear that lovely language everywhere; it sounds like water burbling over rocks, I swear.)
I’ll spend a week in Addis Ababa, and a week travelling the north of the country–Lalibela, Gondar, Bahar Dar, Axum. It’s where the old rock-hewn churches are. It’ll be the rainy season there, and 55 degrees, which does not compute with my African stereotype.
I’m going to try to type a blog entry or two when I’m over there. I don’t know what the internet caf
Oh man. I did a radio show today–Morning Sedition, on Air America. Marc Maron is the host. I am a huge fan. And yeah, he was HILARIOUS. I adore the guy.
We had this exchange:
MIKE: I used to see Marc years ago.
MARC: Yeah, at the Luna Lounge.
MARK RILEY (co-host): When was that?
MIKE: Back in the days of grunge, when Marc Maron invented alternative comedy.
MARC: It’s true. You know what alternative comedy is? It means you don’t get paid, and it’s NOT FUNNY.
I played “Move On” (a song on the Future Soundtrack of America compilation, which I was promoting), “Unsingable Name,” and “Circles,” for an element of, you know, Hi, talk radio audience, recognize this song? I’m THAT GUY.
I love Air America because it’s all about being a LIBERAL. I am a passionate, committed liberal. Yeah, LIBERAL. Word.
I’m typing this on Sunday morning. It’s hot and rainy in New York.