Holding You Up

10 May
2020

Songs For the Soul is an incredible organization that helps nurses dealing with compassion fatigue. Founded by my friend Carolyn Phillips, they directly work with healthcare workers and also are very involved in the research part of how this all works, which means it’ll be applied to countless people in countless professions dealing with compassion fatigue.

Songs For the Soul also has a really great component in that it employs songwriters to work with the nurses. I was lucky enough to get to meet 4 nurses last year and write songs for their stories. It was an incredible experience with each one.

Now that healthcare workers are on the literal frontlines of an international pandemic, they’re busier than ever. Carolyn has the great idea to start Soul-A-Grams, so folks can send their favorite nurse a brand new song from a songwriter (who, during this whole thing, is probably staying home and out of work).

I got to write “Holding You Up” for a nurse in South Carolina who has some New Mexico in their background, hence a couple of NM references.

If you have a healthcare worker in your life that could use a little lift, consider a Soul-A-Gram…and check out the whole Songs For the Soul Youtube channel for all the songs being written for our nurses! Some of my favorite writers on the planet have songs posted there.

Hang in there, everyone.

I somehow had the brain power enough a couple of months ago to connect all my music devices to a thing that lets you chart your listening habits and spits out a pretty graphic when you ask. It’s really cool. You can read about the set up here. Do not ask me for help, I seated-of-the-pants’d it. You need Last.fm and a lot of patience to let your data collect.

So this is a map of my listening on Spotify and my iOS Music app for February, March, and April. I think it’s pretty interesting to see what remained steady, increased, popped in and left, and what is absent.

February was a “normal” month. On any given week my main playlists on Spotify are a collection of Mary Chapin stuff and a MUNA playlist, and then I spin through my “liked songs” quite a bit, which is just a mishmash of things Spotify throws at me.

Then the Real 2020, aka Year of Hell, began in March, and some stuff shifted. First, The Dixie Chicks put out the absolute banger “Gaslighter,” and that whole wave in March is that ONE song. Not ashamed. I had to practice it a lot the day it came out to sing it with Libby Koch at Threadgill’s, so that probably accounts for at least 30 spins. We pulled it off gloriously, I think.

I was learning an Adam Carroll song to play at a showcase that was then canceled due to the virus, but it reminded me how much I love his Live At Flipnotics album. The Zara Larsson boost is one song that I put in my Liked Songs list that I just kept repeating. Not sure what’s up with that.

I made a Donovan Woods playlist in March and spun it a lot. He’s great, check him the heck out.

I distinctly remember not wanting to listen to The Swift hardly at all in March? Not sure what’s up with that. Something in all this tells me what my brain gravitates to in times of stress versus times of…not stress. Taylor must occupy the space in my brain reserved for more carefree, joyful times? Huh. Taylor pops back in for April so it’s all slowly looking up, a little, somehow.

In April you see a big MCC boost not only because I find her music to be like swaddling in a beautiful cozy blanket in a stressful time, but I also made a playlist full of songs to jam to while I work on electric guitar stuff, so that’s a huge bump. Yay guitar scales!

MUNA’s About U album made a huge resurgence in April. The only place I drove was over to my Quarantine buddies’ house, but each night coming home on the nearly empty streets, I would blast Around U or Winterbreak or I Know A Place and it fit the mood perfectly. I love mood albums.

Fiona Apple’s “Fetch the Boltcutters” dropped in April and heck yeah, what an album. Highly recommended.

So…my science project is coming along nicely and we’ll keep tracking. Mostly we will probably see just how little my variations are? I have my favorites and they tend to stay there. But the micro-trends will be interesting as the year goes on!

Ugh what a rollercoaster of a month or two. And I’ll be honest, I’m not out on any front lines, I’m not checking anyone out at the grocery store or working in an ICU or desperately trying to convince dumb people to stay home (ok, I do try to do that, but from my couch). I think all of us are in some cycle of good days and bad days in isolation. I am making less art than I wanted but I have big goals, still, for this quarantine time. And I will do some of them, and I will forego others, and the world will keep turning.

Speaking of the world turning, I lucked out by moving into a pretty sweet part of Austin with lots of walkable roads that lead to beautiful park trails. I was nearly moved to tears when I found my first trailhead sign just sitting there next to a bank of mailboxes in a cul-de-sac. It took me on a path past a pond and lots of cacti and it felt good to be in nature. I’m trying to visit every day.

I’m also incredibly fortunate to have my quarantine team / germ pod ™ of Shawnee and Kate. I go over to their house, they make me dinner, I perform dumb magic tricks for them, we watch movies. Somehow, I got the good end of this deal. It’s nice to have a place to go to, and people to commune with. Shawnee’s chicken Mama and I have also had a few bonding moments, most notably on Easter Sunday afternoon when the neighbors were blaring 90’s country music from their yard. Mama and I sat together, and she endured me singing George Strait and John Michael Montgomery to her for a long while. She’s the best chicken.

Mama Chicken rules the back yard and Nana Cat runs the inside domain, benevolently. She teaches Zen napping classes several hours a day.

Speaking of walking, we have also taken to nighttime wine walks because nighttime is a good time to walk.

On the media front, so many great folks are doing regular shows and readings online, and I aim to compile a list one of these days, but for now…these two things basically make me get up in the mornings.

First, Mary Chapin Carpenter has been posting Songs from Home on Youtube every few days. She’s got the cutest dog Angus and the sleepiest cat White Kitty, and they gather and MCC sings to us, and then reminds us all to “Stay Mighty,” which is my next tattoo I am not even kidding. (Here is the whole playlist).

Second, Meg Stalter is my new favorite comedian, and we watch her videos and generally convulse into choking laughter every time. It is cathartic and she is a star. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.

That’s it for here on a Sunday, I hope you all are doing exactly what you want to do in this weird year. 2020…it’s making its mark.

Traylor Swift

8 Apr
2020

After landing back in Austin from D.C., I immediately set on the task of moving to a new spot. I was fortunate to have a friend refer me to a friend renting out a 1957 Spartan trailer in the heart of South Austin. I’d been in San Marcos for about 6 years, 28 miles south, and was really excited to get back to nexus of most (not all…but a lot) of my social and gig life.

Things about me:

  1. Last time I moved I swore I’d pay someone to do it because I hated it so much.
  2. I am terrible at packing. There is no plan, just chaos. Grab a thing, put it in the box. No rhymes, no reasons.
  3. I am stubborn enough to ignore No. 1 and decided to do it myself.

Well, dear reader…I still hate moving and vow even harder to hire movers next time. I had the really great blessing of my friends Rod and Sandi and their trailer to haul some big stuff, and otherwise I just back and forthed in my Mustang for a month.

The birth of Traylor Swift

Shawnee was helping me make trailer plans when I first shook hands on the rent, and while we were picking up a pizza to have a first dinner in the new place, I was trying to think of what to call it, because “the trailer” wasn’t cutting it. Then, like a beacon from the heavens, this smoking meteoric gem of a name landed right on the asphalt of my mind:

Traylor Swift

Yeah, it was perfect. And so I have spent the month grumpily hauling stuff and mostly happily getting rid of stuff – a LOT of stuff. I had a pretty good sized one bedroom with a walk-in closet, which is a curse for collecting stuff. The Traylor is spacious but you have to be really careful about what you allow in, so that one does not become a hoarder and perhaps befall a fate of a pile of stuff tipping over on you in the middle of the night. So yeah, basically a whole room full of stuff went to Goodwill. I don’t miss it yet. There’s a lesson there.

Turns out a pandemic is a terrible time to move and a great time to have to nest. What would have probably been 10 trips to Target for little things has been significantly curtailed, though I have gotten a few things shipped. I’m definitely going to be well acquainted with the space by the time we can all leave our houses and roam.

My friend Nichole came over to assemble that sweet green couch (before we had to social distance!) because I can’t assemble anything to any sort of passable standards (it takes a village), and I’ve been puttering a little here and there every day. Stuff is on walls. Things are finding places to live. The stereo is in constant use.

No time for a housewarming before we got a stay-at-home order, but maybe in the fall. Maybe in the winter. Maybe later than sooner. Here’s to home.

To The District!

7 Apr
2020

I got to spend the last worry-free weekend of 2020 in the beautiful city of Washington, D.C., playing music and wandering about with Shawnee Kilgore. D.C. has been one of my favorite cities since visiting for the first time in 2017, I have returned once or twice a year since then. There’s never a shortage of stuff to do and see, and I somehow get along really well with the vibe of the city. I know some people find it utterly boring or utterly terrifying to be in the cradle of lobbyists and deal-making, but I get a little charge from it for whatever reason. Walking around the monuments never ceases to remind me about all the good stuff and good people we have had in government, even when it looks dark. Even when it looks really dark.

Here to serve.

We played a WONDERFUL house concert at Lucky Penny – the crowd was a joyous group and Paul, our host, had everything taken care of to a tee, down to some awesome new church pews in his living room for more seating. I had old friends there and met lots of new folks. A show like that can keep a musician going for a long time, and we’re still buzzing about D.C.

We also got to stay at the fabulous Mansion on O Street – an incredible place full of art and wonder and history and inspiration. My favorite thing there is to look UP! The ceilings are just as beautiful as everything else.

And we even got a song written in the Mediterranean Room.

When we were flying back on March 2, there was a little rumbling of something happening with the virus, but we had no issues at the airport and no idea what was coming. Fortunately for both of us, we’ve been back and quarantined long enough to know we didn’t catch anything on our trip. And I’ll always look back on this weekend as The Simpler Time….

Catching Up…

5 Apr
2020

Whelp. I did say I’d continue my Mexico adventures and that was back in February. Since then I’ve gone to Washington, D.C., moved, and a pandemic started. Good lord. I will now attempt to catch this blog up so that I might blog in real time, from this couch, in quarantine. Here we go…

Nothing gets my gears going like ancient stuff. Put me in some ruins and I start vibrating, because I can imagine the people that lived there and fill in the blanks in my mind. Teotihuacan is the perfect place for that, since it was a center of North American civilization and trade, and then…abandoned. Drama! Intrigue!

We had a great tour guide who took us to all three pyramids on site and let us wander to our heart’s content. Take a look at the non-coincidence on how these structures are aligned…

I climbed the Pyramid of the Moon, and then we walked down the Avenue of the Dead, surrounded by people selling all sorts of goods and wares like…JAGUAR CALLS. I bought 2, because I am a sucker. But I also have two jaguar calls, so who’s winning here? I am.

I climbed 3/4 of the Pyramid of the Sun and then felt the tiredness and altitude getting to me. I think if I would have started there, I would have made it, but after 2 other pyramids, I was running out of steam. Now, basically my life’s goal is to go back and climb the Pyramid of the Sun. You know, when we can travel and be around people again.

Mostly I was just grateful to sit in a spot that is a literal cradle of civilization and soak in the spirits and sun and touch the walls and think real hard about how awesome and insignificant we all are. Teotihuacan is highly recommended for a reality check of the highest order.

Oh Mexico

2 Feb
2020

Firstly I think this is amusing so I’ll start with it up front. Most conversations I have had in the last couple of weeks have been something like:

“You went to Mexico?”

“Yeah!”

“Why? Was it a music thing?”

“No!”

“So like…you went for fun? Like a…vacation?”

“Yes! Like a vacation.”

I guess I can see the confusion because I honestly not sure when is the last time I have taken what can be termed as a “real vacation.” I LEFT MY LAPTOP AT HOME, YOU GUYS. I mostly did not check my email for 3 days (mostly). It was…weird. And beautiful.

Mis compadres

But anyway – yes. My friends Denise, Michael, and Charlotte and I took a flight from San Antonio to Mexico City for 4 days and it was an incredible time. My goal was to see Frida…Frida Kahlo has always been an inspiration and a mystery to me. I read about her Casa de Azul where she grew up, her house right next to Diego Rivera’s where they lived separately but were joined by a rooftop bridge (a metaphor for a lot of things with their relationship), her garden in her courtyard, her bed where she painted her intense self portraits with a mirror hanging overhead…I had read it all, I had seen the movie, but I wanted to GO THERE.

Casa de Azul in Coyoacán

Thankfully my friends were up for adventure, so we immersed ourselves in Frida for a couple of days. We stayed in Coyoacán, a few blocks from Casa da Azul. It’s a beautiful part of the city, with colorful houses and walls, a big marketplace, public art, a gorgeous square next to Parroquia San Juan Bautista, one of the oldest churches in Mexico City.

Some Frida highlights:

Frida’s studio at Casa de Azul
Frida’s bed with her mirror overhead.
Frida’s KITCHEN. Holy.

After we visited Casa de Azul, we were informed that Frida and Diego’s studio was not that far from our plans for the day, so we walked over. It was the icing on the cake, and we got to see a lot of Diego’s world here. Frida lived here off and on, but ultimately moved back to Casa de Azul for the most part.

Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo, CDMX
A selfie in Frida’s bathroom mirror.
Diego’s studio.

My favorite kind of tourism is the immersion kind, so any kind of house or studio tour just makes me slack-jawed with wonder. Something about seeing the paints Frida was using to make her last works, or her book collection, or Diego’s collection of indigenous art…it’s inspiring. It makes me think about my space and what I choose to put in it, and what I need or don’t need.

More about Mexico City in another post, but for now:

I hope the exit is joyful and I hope never to return.” – Frida Kahlo

Well, a year of intermittent Wednesdays, but still a LOT of Wednesdays in 2019 were spent at Threadgill’s! I was honored to be asked to play a residency there in the Spring, and Midweek Modern Troubadours was born. I played (give or take) 4 months of weekly shows in May, June, September, and October. All of these kind, lovely, and TALENTED AS HECK musicians agreed to be my guests. Part of it still feels like a thing I just made up in my head of, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” But these people all joined me on stage and every single show was a unique little adventure.

Thanks to everyone who came once or twice or, for some of you…to just about most of these shows! I’ve stolen some of your photos…thank you for documenting these things when I was busy trying to play in the right key up there. (A bunch of these are by Spring Willow Lee…thanks Spring!)

I’ve linked to everyone’s websites – please check out their music and support them!

May 1, 2019: Shawnee Kilgore: The dynamic duo starts it off with a bang.

Shawnee Kilgore Jana Pochop

May 8, 2019: Susan Gibson: We go way back and we laughed a LOT.

Susan Gibson Jana Pochop

May 15, 2019: Bonnie Whitmore: she brought her 8 string bass and rock ‘n roll was born.

May 22, 2019: Kelley Mickwee: we learned a lot about hermit crabs.

Kelley Mickwee Jana Pochop

May 29, 2019: Mandy Rowden with guest host Susan Gibson: (I had to go see Imogen Heap play an acoustic show in a tiny room…these two kindly made the Threadgill’s scene hoppin’ without me!)

June 5, 2019: Chris Carroll and Adam Carroll: on the heels of their 2 new releases this summer…two of my favorite people!

Adam Carroll Chris Carroll Jana Pochop

June 12, 2019: Barbara Nesbitt: she is queen of many things including harmonies and delightfully inappropriate jokes.

Barbara Nesbitt Jana Pochop

June 19, 2019: Emily Shirley: old home week with my Homeslipper sister!

Emily Shirley Jana Pochop

September 4, 2019: Jeff Plankenhorn: we wrote 3 songs this summer and sung ’em all that night!

Jeff Plankenhorn Jana Pochop

September 11, 2019: Terri Hendrix: harmonica jams, beautiful songs, and a couple of decades of inspiration for me. Whew.

Terri Hendrix Jana Pochop

September 18, 2019: Michael O’Connor: the zen master of guitar and one of my favorite writers to boot.

Michael O'Connor Jana Pochop

October 2, 2019: Hardened & Tempered: two Scorpios and a Libra walk into a gig…

Hardened & Tempered Jana Pochop

October 9, 2019: Shawnee Kilgore: so nice we did it twice!

Shawnee Kilgore Jana Pochop

October 16, 2019: Mark Addison: Mark solo songs and onetwothreescream in the flesh!

Mark Addison Jana Pochop onetwothreescream

October 23, 2019: Grace Pettis: NERD SONGS ALL NITE LONG.

Grace Pettis Jana Pochop

October 30, 2019: Betty Soo: lots of Harry Chapin talk over the Astros/Nationals game 7 updates AND stellar accordion too!

Betty Soo Jana Pochop

Happy November!

1 Nov
2019

No better way to kick off my favorite month (aka my birth month) than by hanging out with a bunch of amazing musicians and playing a Lady Gaga song dressed at Steve Zissou from Life Aquatic. I’m not usually a costume person but Plank made it mandatory. It was fun wearing that ridiculous hat all day. We played “Monster” by Gaga and the insanely great line up entertained all night. I did not eat any candy, which I now regret. Oh well.

The company I get to keep is pretty great. Now to wash the Gaga lyrics off my arm.

Catch A Tiger

22 Oct
2019

Jonatha Brooke, Erin Ivey, and meeeeeeee. (Photo by Blue Rock)

You never know what’ll happen with a song…as I wrote earlier, I spontaneously wrote a song with Erin Ivey while we were both attending Jonatha Brooke‘s workshop at Blue Rock this summer. When I say spontaneously, I mean it. We went from meeting, to hearing Mabel Stark’s story, to writing on the porch in less than 8 hours. Total joy. We recorded it on the 3rd morning of the workshop…pretty quick turnaround!

We decided to forward the recording we made at the workshop to Richard Sandomir, the author of Mabel’s obituary, the gorgeous piece of writing that set it all off. He sent a nice note back, and forwarded it to the head of the Overlooked series at the New York Times, who asked if they could share it.

Thankfully Erin is quick on her feet and decided that we couldn’t just have them linking to the Dropbox file we had, so she set up this landing page at www.thetigersong.com telling about Mabel, the story of writing the song, and the chance to download it if you want it! I made a lyric video so you can sing along if you like. Mabel would dig it if you did, I think.

Write that song, kids! And meet new people to write with…cool things happen. (And check out all the great stuff they do at Blue Rock Artist Ranch!)

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