I wrote a guest post for my friend Tamara Hill Murphy’s blog, A Sacramental Life, about my work/calling as a singer-songwriter. I hope you will check it out.
Europe, Part 1: Bangor, Northern Ireland
I haven’t posted much about Europe. I was there from Mid September through The end of November 2016. It was amazing. I flew from New York to London, and then to Belfast. The airline lost my guitar at JFK. Not a very auspicious start (I later got it back). My first gig was in Bangor, Northern Ireland. I basically tumbled off the plane and into this gig in a lovely pub called Fealty’s. It’s a series run by a beautiful songwriter named Stephen Macartney. Well, just imagine — my first time in Northern Ireland. I was really jet-lagged but thrilled to be there. It went well, and it was there that I met Rodney and Jennifer Cordner, a wonderful couple who took me under their wings for a few days. They were just lovely. More on them later. The people in the pub were really warm and welcoming. For instance, I left my coat at home in New York. A nice man in the pub, when he found out I didn’t have a coat, went home and got a windbreaker which he then gave me.
After the gig, Stephen and his girlfriend Trish had me over for chili and Guinness but since I don’t drink anymore, I just had chili. And at that point hadn’t had a drink in over two years. And I don’t usually miss it. But that night, there amongst all those wonderful people drinking Guinness and Irish whiskey, I did feel a little bit of that yearning to have some. And that’s the problem right there: wanting a drink always took on the quality of a yearning. Anyway, it was a beautiful night and I got a little bit of an education about the area and about “The Troubles” between Protestants and Catholics. That’s an old story and I didn’t quite get all the nuances. For instance, earlier, during the show, when I brought forth some of the spirituality in my own songs, some of the people in the pub had gotten a bit uncomfortable. Stephen said later that some people get uncomfortable when religion comes up, because it has been so divisive.
The next day Stephen, Trish and I took a walk around Bangor and looked for a coat for me to replace the windbreaker, which was a bit thin. I eventually found one, but not in Bangor.
Didn’t take many pictures in Bangor for some reason.
Here’s Stephen, Trish, and me (in gifted windbreaker).
Me playing in Fealty’s
In Northern Ireland, Top Cat hawks Mortgages. I thought that was noteworthy. I’m guessing most of my readers won’t know who Top Cat is.
“My Top 10 Albums”
Oof it’s late. I just got home and it’s after 12 which means technically I missed another day of posting. But only technically. There’s a thing going around on Facebook where people are listing 10 formative albums from their high school days. After seeing my friend Jacob post a parody list which was really funny, I decided to make a parody list of my own because it seemed like it would be much more entertaining than an actual list of formative albums from high school, which would be pretty predictable (Beatles, Zeppelin, Police, Neil Young. Suzanne Vega’s “Solitude Standing” would be on there though. I guess that’s a curve ball).
So here’s my parody list of Top 10 Albums:
Monks in Cloaks – Cyrcle Cyrcle Dot Dot
Aloof Flames – Sizzle (a Little)
Ephemeral Anvil – Inscrutable Symbols
Amused by Gerunds – Things We’ve Flung
Falling off Couches – Oof!
The You Can’t Do Thats – Seriously Stop
The Gentle Misogynists – Girl, You’re Just Alright
Misspelled Animalz – Well, Here are the Animalz
Mario Flannegan – Songs your Grandmother Liked I Think
Leviticus – Live at Lancaster Bible College.
Last Night at the Owl
I played a show last night. Well, a set, at the Owl Music Parlor, a quaint and cute listening room in Brooklyn, lovingly run by Oren Bloedow. Oren’s in a terrific dreamy band called Elysian Fields. I suppose every folk/rock listening room is run as a labor of love, but this one seems particularly love-infused. For instance, while the music’s going on they curtain off the music room and the people in the bar are shushed while the music is playing. They don’t serve drinks in the room where the music is playing. You can go get a drink and bring it back, but they won’t bring it to you. The whole night, Oren’s going back and forth, making drinks, washing dishes, running sound, passing the tip jar, and playing music with the performers. You can tell his soul is in it.
Larry Gallagher, who invited me to share the show with him, played after I did. I love Larry’s music. I’ll post one of his songs at the end. Larry’s as good a songwriter and musician as I have heard. He’s originally from NY but has lived in San Francisco for a long time.
I had a really good time last night and woke up in a haze of gratitude and longing: Gratitude for the warm community I experienced last night, and longing for more of it. I didn’t feel that I necessarily performed that well (although friends say I did), but I just felt. good. Good seeing people, being with people, being part of a community, no matter how tenuous that connection may be. Some college friends came I hadn’t seen in a while. I was part of a really special community of friends in college, and it brought back, good warm feelings seeing some of them again. It was good sitting at a bar talking with good people in a warm, well lit room, walking home in the crunching snow carrying my guitar. Just feeling grateful to be alive. Not because I played so well or wowed the crowd. I didn’t. I mean, I don’t think I did. But my fear and anxiety about how well I performed were subsumed in feelings of gratitude. It’s 10 to midnight and I have to finish this post quickly if I’m to stick to my plan of posting something every day. I’m very tempted to not post this because I like to edit stuff. But I’ll post this unedited. Good night! (whoops it’s 12:06 now because I had to go back and fix a couple of things. ah well. missed it by that much, chief).
Here’s a song in which Larry’s mordant wit is on full display. A song called “TV is Your Friend,” written from the perspective of TV.
“TV is Your Friend
Don’t think this I don’t see you eyeing me
After everyone has gone?
Behind that pout I know you’re dying
To cross the room and turn me on
Within an hour you’ll have fallen
Why do you sit there and pretend
That you have found some higher calling?
TV is your friend
It makes me sad to watch you churning
Still you treat me with disdain
Do I not take away the burning
Do I not numb you to the pain?
You know you love the way I flicker
My pull you’ll never comprehend
Not as strong as heroin, but quicker
TV is your friend
You’ve stopped your kicking and your screaming
I knew you’d tire of saying ‘”no”
Settle back into the evening
Settle back into the glow
It’s the gift that keeps on giving
It’s a love that never ends
If you are sick to death of living
TV is your friend”
I’m back. After 35 days, 22 shows, 14 states, and 7200 miles, we drove into New York City, exhausted and cheering. I dropped off my stuff, smoked 2 cigarettes even though I don’t smoke (and I mean that), said goodbye to my bandmates/friends, gave the ancient rented brown minivan a good washing, returned it to its owner, took the train back to Jersey City, hurried my sub-letter out the door, and slept. Oh goodness how I slept. I slept my face off as the rain poured on the black asphalt outside. Now the future is a glowing sun on the horizon, and I’m trying to figure out how to grab it and stuff it in my shirt pocket before it sinks.
Thanks to my amazing band/tourmates, Gerko, Rachelle, Paul, Toby, and Joan Marie! Thanks to everyone who hosted, housed, fed, put up with, and came out to hear us.
see you out there.
(Lion Song, recorded at the Carrboro ArtsCenter, Friday, August 9th, 2013)
(top photo by Emanuel Brunson)
That’s what they say at the yoga studio where I go sometimes. They have free yoga on certain days. It’s the same studio where Alec Baldwin’s wife, Hilaria Thomas, teaches. Hilaria started saying “inhale….. aaaaaaand exhale,” and all her fellow yoga instructors thought it sounded pretty good so now they say it too. Except the one teacher I like pronounces it “axhale,” Which isn’t extremely relaxing (but she’s still a great teacher). I can never do the poses. Once I thought the teacher said “awkward facing dog,” and I thought “finally, a pose I can do.” Sometimes I fall asleep and once I even started snoring, until I was awoken by the tittering of my fellow yoga students. anyway…
After about 2000 miles of careening around the country going from concert to concert in a rented minivan full of tightly packed gear, vinyl records, and an assortment of bandmates and one bandmate’s lovely wife, I’ve hit a lull, wherein I’m hanging out all by my lonesome in a lovely green leafy backyard full of little yellow birds and flowers-whose-names-I-don’t-know-the-names-of exploding in color. My only companions for the next few days will be two big slobbery dogs and whoever accepts my invitation to get together for dinner. There are no miles to drive, no tolls to scrape change together for, no starbucks runs, no gear to set up or tear down, no charts to correct, and no gigs to play, (until this Saturday). So I’m breathing a bit.
(But only a bit. I’m also tryin’ to get some publications to review the record, and trying to get folks to come see us in Boston and Carrboro. That’s the thing about this line of work. There’s *always* too much to do.)
Ok, and since I haven’t officially said it, *THANK YOU!!!!* to all the lovely people who hosted my bandmates and me over the last 2.5 weeks, for feeding us, housing us, and being so generous. Thanks to everyone who came to see us play, hung out, donated generously in the tip bucket, and bought records. Thanks to Toby, Paul, Gerko and Rachelle, for playing and traveling with me, doing sound, lugging gear, making schedules, making profit-and-loss spreadsheets, handling merch like a boss (Rachelle), and putting up with me when I misplaced the car keys. Thanks to Blake Gingerich and Tonieh Ellis for filming me a bunch (curious to see how that turns out) and making me feel like L.L. Cool J. Thanks to the Hazletts for awesome digs and hang time in Amish OH. Thanks to Joans Sr and Jr for awesome digs on Lake MI, the Yawgers for lovely digs in PA, and the Dill/Marsters for lovely digs in MA. Thanks to the fans for wanting to take pics with me and, again, making me feel like L.L. Cool J. I don’t have time or space to thank everyone who made me feel like L.L. Cool J, cause it was a lot of people. Thanks to each of the 7 people in Camp Hill who told me, throughout the morning, not to forget my guitar. I remembered it. xoxoxo Jason
(there are more tour dates to come, in NH, Boston, Carrboro, NC, DC, VA, and Atlanta. please come see us! And, if you like, preorder the new record, officially being released in August).
Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Gospel pioneer and the “Godmother of Rock and Roll”
Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a gospel/blues superstar in the 1940s and a huge influence on most of the rock and roll icons the world came to love in the 50s (There are stories of Elvis running home after school to listen, transfixed, to her on the radio). Cool, self-possessed, and exultant, Sister Rosetta made some of the most exhilarating music the world has ever heard and, with a graceful swagger, set the template for generations of guitar-wielding rock and roll heroes to come (all while busting up centuries of deeply-entrenched gender and color lines). She died, largely forgotten, in 1973.
For a long time Tharpe didn’t receive her due as a pioneer of American music and a progenitor of Rock and Roll, but lately that seems to have changed. The debut episode of this season’s American Masters series on PBS was devoted to her. I haven’t seen it yet, but it’s next on my queue of stuff to watch. Here’s a clip of her in England in 1964:
Watch Sister Rosetta Tharpe: Didn’t it Rain (Live 1964) on PBS. See more from American Masters.
and the full nearly one-hour episode. Watch it before it’s gone!
Watch Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock & Roll on PBS. See more from American Masters.
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
Someone once told me they heard a Nina Simone record playing from far away and thought it was me singing until they got closer. I’ve also been told I sound like Burl Ives (who, incidentally, I saw perform at NC State when I was 12). Perhaps I could have a second career as a dual Nina-Simone-from-a-distance/Burl Ives tribute artist.
I played the Christopher Street subway station yesterday here in NYC, and sang Nina’s signature “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” about 6 times. By the end of the night I was sounding really good on it.
The night started slow, maybe because I was rusty, or maybe because I forgot to bring an extra “seed” dollar to put in my guitar case to encourage people to give (a busking basic I learned long ago playing in the Boston subways with Brian Funck).
But things got rolling and peaked with the appearance of an long-time fan and his mom, en route to see a Broadway show. They asked for “Lion Song,” and then a hymn, and filmed me (or took my picture) on an iPad . After that, a guy came up to me and said he would give me $5.00 to “sing something nice” for his girlfriend. Out came “Lion Song” again. The couple started dancing, swaying to the music and swaying to whatever was in the bottle they swigged liberally from. Then the young woman sat down on the subway platform with her legs protruding into the area the train enters when it roars screeching into the station. Several people sidled up to her and advised her that this was not a good idea. Her boyfriend agreed, and they all started trying to convince and cajole her to move, which she did, finally.
Here’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by Nina Simone, slow and smoky, recorded in 1964. It was supposed by many to have a civil rights subtext.
The Animals’ version, recorded a year later, was manic in comparison, with a dual guitar/organ riff. Here they are on Ed Sullivan (synch is off). The girls are screaming Beatlemania-style. Maybe it was something Ed brought out in them?
And lastly by Elvis Costello. I like the way he delivers the word “sinful.”
I’m Making a Record, Part 2
It’s taken a while, but my third solo record, Outposts, is all tracked and nearly mixed. It’s sounding great, and I’m really proud of the songs. I can’t wait for you to hear them. I just launched a kickstarter campaign to raise funds to help finish it. This would cover mastering, graphic design and artwork, and manufacturing. If you’d like to help me out, You can make a small (or large) donation, or simply spread the word about it to your friends. Thank you so much for considering supporting this project; I really appreciate it! Special thanks to my buddy Reid Maclean for putting together a video for me.
Here’s what I said about the project over at kickstarter:
Once, a radio interviewer asked me what my songs were about, and I said “longing.” He thought that was an “angsty” answer and told me so. I know he’s right, yet I still can’t think of a better answer. My songs are about longing — to know and be known by God and my fellow human beings, to be free of spirit, mind and body, to feel my soul careening over mountaintops to the sea. That said, I try to be funny.
The record is almost finished and is sounding terrific. I recorded the songs in Philadelphia with an accomplished, talented, and kind group of people including producer/engineer Brian McTear, engineer Jonathan Low, bassist/arranger Joshua Stamper, and Drummer Patrick Berkery. Brian and Jonathan have done great work recently with Dr. Dog, the Dead Milkmen, and Sharon Van Etten. Josh and Patrick keep things locked down and truckin’ for Danielson.
I’m asking for your help to raise funds for mastering, graphic design and artwork, and manufacturing. If I raise enough to press vinyl, I’ll do that. If I raise more than expected, but not enough for vinyl, I’ll put the funds towards promotion.
To your right, you will see a bunch of incentives. I’ve tried to create levels of giving for friends of all economic standings, so that everyone can pitch in, whatever amount you feel is right for you. Every giving level comes with at least one benefit. I hope there’s something there that looks good to you. If you can’t afford to contribute money, you can help by spreading the word about Outposts and passing along news about this campaign to someone who might be able to support me financially.”
Thanks for your help!. I’m thankful to be blessed with an amazingly encouraging and supportive community of family, friends, and fans.
All the best,
P.S. please feel free to email me with any questions, or about anything:
jason “at” jasonharrod.com
I’m Making a Record
I saw my second member of “The Slipnuts” on the subway the other day. If I see a third I will have achieved a Slipnut trifecta (that’s a phrase I just made up, which you can feel free to use. You’re welcome). I frequently run across various writers and cast members from “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” in New York, and for me, a former obsessive viewer of the show, hearing Andy Blitz‘s laconic observations on the L train is like watching Mike Schmidt fielding pop flies. Why Mike Schimdt? Because he had an awesome moustache and because he played for the Phillies and I happen to be in Philadelphia this very moment making a record.
When I joined the Columbia House record club as a teenager they sent me giant packages of LP’s that I bought with my own money, which I played on the first stereo I bought with my own money, having recently upgraded from a Donald Duck record player with Donald Duck on it (I suppose a Donald Duck record player *without* Donald Duck on it would be an ontological paradox and a gyp.)
Thanks to the wonders of mail-order (and despite the evils of negative option billing) I was, monthly, treated to the delights of whatever my older sister and her friends happened to be listening to, which was mostly monumentally awesome British rock from the 60s and 70s. Back then, albums (and their covers, thanks largely to Storm Thorgerson of the British design group Hipgnosis) were something you could lie down on the floor and immerse yourself in for hours.
Now albums are on the way out and so are CDs, and the internets are full of kids lol’ing at various European governments’ futile efforts to shut down “the Pirate Bay” and other torrent sites, and these kids can’t for the life of them figure out why anyone would pay for a CD. Some of them haven’t bought a CD in their life and never will.
And I wish they’d get off my lawn. Oh wait, I don’t have a lawn.
Anyway, I’m recording at Miner Street Studios with a fellow named Brian McTear. Personnel will include Josh Stamper and Patrick Berkery, on bass and drums, respectively. Josh and Patrick comprise the rhythm section of Danielson, the Northeast corridor’s best and only Indie-Christian-nurse-uniform-wearing folk/pop collective. (edit: last night Josh, perhaps fearful of being known for wearing a nurse’s uniform on stage, informed me that what they wear are “service uniforms.”)
We had our first rehearsal last week and it went really well. Right now Patrick is getting drum sounds.
I hope to keep you updated on the project here. As things progress, I hope you’ll keep in touch and spread the word about what we’re up to. If we’ve lost touch over the years, I’d love to re-connect with you (especially if you live in Philly and want to buy me dinner).
You can find out more goings-on at Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and jasonharrod.com.