There is a decent interview with me that has just been posted on American Songwriter. I discuss the Renmin Park album as well as the upcoming Demon’s (volume 2) album.
One of the main reasons for my family going to China for three months was to bring my two daughters back to the land of their birth; a chance for them to experience it firsthand. The latest trend in international adoptions is “homeland visits.” Parents are encouraged to take their adopted daughters on a two week tour of China, culminating in a trip to the child’s orphanage. It’s definitely a worthy idea (and a smart way for the adoption industry to make a bit more cash), but my wife and I have always felt that to take your kid from the suburban splendours of North America head-first into the urban sprawl that is modern China would be a little too mind-blowing for even the most prepared and sophisticated child. So when we were offered an opportunity to spend three months living in a small city in China, which would give this homeland visit a bit of context, we jumped at it. We thought that the experience of walking into an orphanage and seeing a room full of squalling babies laid out in their cribs on wooden boards wouldn’t be as traumatic for our daughters if they had a better sense of the difference between living conditions in China and those in the West. We were wrong, of course.
A Few Bags of Grain comes specifically out of that experience – of returning to the girl’s orphanages. We always talk about the birth-mother in the adoption stories that we are told to tell our kids, but I don’t think we are capable of truly representing her. We usually portray her as a stereotype – a tragic, romantic figure. We also talk about abandonment in these stories, but what do most of us truly know and understand about abandonment? Returning to the birth towns and the orphanages was an awakening for us as parents and a life-altering experience for, at least, my eldest daughter (who had just turned eleven). When we began the journey, my wife and I had no idea what were heading in to. My daughter, on the other hand, seemed to have a much deeper understanding of what lay ahead. As we were, literally, stepping out of our apartment to head off on this journey, she pulled us aside and out-of-the-blue said, “OK…I’ll go to the orphanage, but I don’t want to go to the place where I was found…”. She already knew what this trip was really about and what it was that she was going to have to face.
The song is about the “worthlessness of girl,” an attitude that exists not just in China, but all around the globe and shows itself in different ways. And, it’s about, that worn old saw, the indomitable nature of the human spirit.
Here is a video taken inside one of my daughter’s orphanages. Don’t watch this if you are in a public place, unless, of course, you don’t mind bawling in public.
If you’d like to catch up on some past blogs about the Renmin Park album, just click on a link:
Day 6 – Asheville, NC: It was a very bumpy and uncomfortable ride through the mountains last night. No one got much sleep. Tim and I took any early morning walk through the streets of Asheville and found an exceptional breakfast at the Early Girl Eatery. Today was day one of a three day street festival in downtown Asheville. It’s a huge affair and we are in direct competition. Margo and I did a short set at the local radio station. It was hot as a @#*he%#uc%&r. We had a pretty decent turnout tonight despite all of the free stuff going on outside. We love this place, this town, this club. We had a fun, we played loose with lots of energy. An excellent crowd despite the small gaggle of geese near the bar that Margo had to quiet down. Playing for an audience like this is what makes touring worthwhile.
Day 7 – Atlanta, GA: We spent the morning in a hotel parking lot in downtown Atlanta. Jared and I decided to kill some time and we set off for the new-ish Georgia Aquarium. The line-up to get in was stretching out the door and winding along the treeless plaza, so we headed back to the bus. It is freakin’ hot…no metaphor or simile is needed. Throughout the week we have been watching bits and pieces of 2012 on satellite TV. This morning we filled in the few missing pieces. You all should know that it doesn’t end with a whimper, but a bang. Once we got settled in behind the venue (The Variety Playhouse), next to the stinky dumpsters, I did the obligatory stumbling around the Little Five Points area. There was a Cake Boss marathon on the satellite this afternoon, so we partook. What a bizarre premise for a show. We figure that one could create an excellent reality TV show (in the Cake Boss mode) set around a tour manager: following him or her through their day and watching them deal with all of the hic-ups that occur. You could even have different bands guest starring as the tour manager moves from tour to tour. That is now a copyrighted idea so if you want to develop it you need to contact me first. We had another very good show tonight. It started off a little bit shaky but gathered steam as it went along. Another excellent crowd helped us to focus. We needed them tonight , it was show number six in seven nights…and did I mention how hot it was…..
We fly home tomorrow. The rest of the Summer and September (between time off with our families) will be dedicated to finishing off Demons, Volume 2 of The Nomad Series. We are aiming to have it available on the site by late October. In the meantime I’ll be posting a lot more stuff about Renmin Park and we’ll also start to post some of the work that we are doing on Demons. So check back often (or join us on Facebook or put us in your RSS feed). We’ll be back on the road in October, in the meantime, have a safe and fun Summer.
Day 4 – Charlotte, NC: It was as hot as Megan Fox in Transformers 1. I barely left the bus: once in the morning to find coffee, and a second time to check out a very disturbing anti-abortion rally on a downtown corner, complete with raging preacher and photos of butchered babies. This is a strange town. But why wouldn’t it be. Lots of money floating around, lots of poverty too and then there’s that Southern thang adrift in the humidity. This venue (the McGlohan Theater) is a beauty. It looks good, it feels good and it sounds great. It’s always a treat to play here because the audiences are always enthusiastic. What comes first, the venue or the audience? I think that each feeds the other. I had a tough show tonight and could never really find the handle. It wasn’t a bad show, it just didn’t take off. But the audience cheered and egged us on throughout, which is always much appreciated.
Day 5 – Knoxville, TN: I woke up in a Wal-Mart parking lot. The best thing about it was that I didn’t have to change out of my PJs to go shopping. A great way to start the day. We then moved on to a very good record store called the Disc Exchange where Margo, Jeff and I played a very fun acoustic set to a very appreciative gathering. Jeff and I watched Ed Harris and Vigo M play a couple of real cool cats in Appaloosa. After soundcheck some of us had a crappy dinner at a big brew hall down the street. Tonight, another very fine music venue, The Bijou, and a small, but excellent audience: enthusiastic and appreciative. I had a lot of fun. Our late night movie was 44 Inch Chest: a nasty and very twisted English gangster film, which doesn’t quite hit the mark. Not too hot today, but steamy as a lobster pot in a Maine kitchen.
Day 1: Camden, NJ – A very long overnight drive from Toronto to get us here. Why here? A three day festival just across the river from Philadelphia, put on by WXPN (one of the better music stations left standing). It was as hot as a two dollar whore on the 4th of July. I tried to stay as cool as possible and moved between the air conditioned bus and the air conditioned green room and didn’t get much of a feel for the festival grounds. It was definitely a well attended event with lots and lots of bands that I’ve never heard of (kids these days). We had a pretty good, if short, set. After the show we headed back to the hotel to recover from our heat exhaustion. Later in the night the police cordoned off the hotel parking lot…speculation was that a body was found in the back of a car. Welcome to Jersey.
Day 2: Annapolis, MD – A day off on day 2 of the tour is just a little unusual. But so be it. We woke and we drove. We watched the movie Greenberg in which Ben Stiller (in a serious role) plays an asshole who puts himself into cringe-inducing situation. We kept waiting for the punch line, which never came. And we watched Green Zone in which Matt Damon plays a soldier in Iraq who goes off on this ludicrous hunt for the missing WMDs. It was time well wasted. We arrived in Annapolis just in time to greet the noon day sun. It was so hot today the squirrels were fanning their nuts. I braved the heat to wander around Annapolis. I’ve always liked this little town, it has ice cream, good coffee, cobblestones and lots and lots of history: it actually has over three hundred years of history ranging from the inspiring (the ratification of The Treaty of Paris) to the terrifying (the bustling slave market that was this town’s economic engine for decades). I found a pristine hard covered copy of Ian McEwan’s latest book, Solar, in one of my favourite used book stores, I found a smelly pub and ate a semi-tasty BLT with a happy hour, half priced pint of local Pale Ale and had a cup of oh-so-tasty coconut ice cream at the Annapolis Ice Cream company. So it was a good day.
Day 3: Annapolis, MD – Another good day. Hotter than a McDonalds cup of coffee. I found a nice cafe and had a good latte and very good breakfast of smoked salmon with capers, onions and cream cheese on a toasted sesame seed bagel. I talked to my family who are ensconced in the Adirondacks; worked on a new song called Idle Tales; struggled through soundcheck; and then had a very fun show. The Rams Head is an odd space. It doesn’t have the greatest sound on stage (and it probably doesn’t have the greatest sound in the audience), but it’s always a fun place to play and that’s because of the audience. There is always an energy in that place which you just want to plug in to. We played a wicked version of Me and the Devil tonight. Before we went on, we watched a documentary on Miles at The Isle of Wight in 1970. So we were emboldened.
If you are milling about Knoxville this Thursday (July 22), and looking for something to do, come and join me, Margo and Jeff at The Disc Exchange. We’ll be playing a few songs starting at 1pm and hanging around. Come and have a listen and say hello. The performance will also be simulcast on WFIV 105.3.
NPR to the rescue again. They ran a nice piece today on the program All Songs Considered and have a posted a piece on their blog. Please check it out if you have the time.
Here is Cookie Bob’s latest installment. It’s his first ever recording of the band. If you bought a Clubhouse Subscription you can download it for free by entering The Clubhouse section of the site. If you don’t have a Clubhouse subscription…why not?..there is a lot more music to come over the next eighteen months. Enjoy the music and Happy Canada Day!