Thursday, 10 May 2012

Greetings From The Empire State

I've been wondering how to go about doing this sort of thing again. I've got so much and so little to say all at the same time, and I sometimes think I prefer reading Amy's blog than writing anything myself. It sort of lets me off the hook. But it nags at me - I still want to do it - even though I preferred the days before everyone had a blog, when there was something wonderfully ridiculous about a minor pop star writing about a trip to the supermarket or a dust up with a council official.

But I enjoyed the writing and I miss it so here's a snippet of my new (or perhaps not so new by now) life in wonderful upstate New York...

It's probably going to take another year or so to get this house sorted out but at least we're not living in a caravan. Which is just as well considering a mild winters day barely gets above freezing round here. Or that's what they say. We've been lucky, we've had the mildest winter anyone can remember. It still cost us an oil field's worth of fuel to heat the place - I think most of the heat went up through the uninsulated roof while the furnace kept the hot water tank at boiling point twenty four hours a day. Seriously - you could have made a British cup of tea with water from the hot tap.

But the winter was quite jolly - there were sunny days with deep blue skies - even when the temperature was somewhere terrifyingly below zero (at least for a soft English southerner like myself). The Catskill Mountains loomed over the shopping centre and threatened to get cover in snow, but they never really did..

One Sunday morning sometime back in October we walked out of the house to buy a newspaper and by the time we got back, about twenty minutes later, we'd seen a snake, a freight train and a mountain. And all before breakfast. We hear freight trains in the night - very romantic. We met a woman whose husband drives the train. He's called Doug. I didn't catch her name. She says he leaves home trying to look as though it's just a job and he'd rather be fishing, but there's a certain swagger that tells her he's thrilled to be driving the train. So when we hear the banshee wail of a distant train whistle in the middle of the night I think there goes Doug...

Of course it could as well be his mate Gary or Frank, which brings me to another point: the men round here are all called Gary, unless they're called Frank. Occasionally you come across a Jim and once a Chuck, but mostly it's Frank or Gary. I've yet to meet a Hank. In a bygone era I imagine this place was cluttered with Hanks but no more.
I feel as though I'm in a film half the time and the supermarket checkout ladies are all besotted because of my accent - they try to keep me talking. Buying paint in the Home Depot I felt like James Bond. The woman that mixes the custom colours nearly came adrift. If Amy hadn't been there I don't know what might have become of me. The woman actually told Amy something to that effect herself.
Other times they think I'm bonkers and scurry away dragging quizzical-eyed children. They think I'm putting it on, an ex-mental patient from Idaho trying out a new identity. Sometimes I turn into Terrence Stamp in The Limey, and that really confuses them.

The neighbours are very friendly thank God. Friendly but not overbearing - they keep a respectful distance. Soon after we moved in the lady over the back popped round with an apple cinnamon cake all wrapped in foil. She took a quick glance around - that is, I assume she did, because that's what I would have done in her place - and told us to put our feet up, have a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. There wasn't much for her to look at because the container hadn't arrived yet, and we couldn't invite her to stay because we only had two chairs.
A couple of days later we were strolling round the local supermarket - the Price Chopper on Price Chopper Plaza (only in America...) - we saw a display of apple cinnamon cakes that looked exactly like the one the neighbour gave us, except these ones were packed in transparent plastic containers. Of course we bought one, took it home and did a bit of comparing and contrasting. Quite possibly exactly the same.
But it's the thought that counts. I should mention the cake was delicious, and we were touched by such a kind gesture, and I'm sort of hoping it was a repackaged supermarket cake because it makes for a better story, me being English and cynical and so on.

Then we heard about Neighbour Dan... Neighbour Dan and Cake Neighbour live next door to each other. They don't get on. Our next door neighbour's son told us there was a boundary dispute, which I suppose accounts for the odd line the fence takes dividing the two properties. No one, it seemed, likes Neighbour Dan, but we resolved to keep an open mind and say hello one day when he's out and about and the other neighbours aren't. Even though the next door neighbour's son let it drop that Neighbour Dan had our patio bricks away just before we moved in. I was wondering why there was a square of mud in the middle of the back garden or yard as they call it over here. I thought it might be something to do with Druids or some sort of crop circle related phenomenon, but dismissed the idea - America's too young a country for that sort of malarkey.
Time crept along we never had met Neighbour Dan, we didn't even know his name, until one well-scrubbed November morning a dubious character crossed our front lawn and there was a knocking at the door... Denim shrt, white t-shirt, Walmart work jeans, a pair of Timberlands, cigarette shielded against the elements in a cupped palm, ever shifting eyes, a sparse black widows peak.
He'd come round to introduce himself.
To extend the hand of friendship.
To offer to lend me tools.
He'd come to explain himself...
It seems that the previous owners appointed Neighbour Dan caretaker of the property in their absence. From what we've picked up from the other neighbours, including the local chief of police who lives just over the road, the previous occupants loaded a van in the middle of the night and fucked off to South Carolina leaving a house full of junk (two dumpsters worth apparently) and a lot of outstanding bills, including the mortgage, which is why we were able to buy it from a bank at a knockdown price.
As payment for his services, mowing the lawn, shovelling snow, that sort of thing, the previous owners paid Neighbour Dan in patio bricks and an above-ground swimming pool which we were welcome to have back though it would break lil' Danny's heart - you should have seen him the day we brought it over, his lil' eyes were shining...
I declined the offer of the return of the swimming pool - it crossed my mind that the only reason he'd be giving it back would be because it had a hole in it. And I'm glad I did because the other day our nice next door neighbours told me day that when that pool was in our yard the water in it was green and swimming with frog spawn but it didn't stop the former occupants kids from jumping into it.
Of course they might have just been trying to get clean after spending too long in the house.
Anyway, I told him I was surprised to hear that the banks were employing caretakers to look after their foreclosures but he didn't react, just backed down the path a couple of respectful paces and took a puff on the ill-concealed cigarette. He blew out smoked, looked around, and said in a confidential tone, 'I don't know what the neighbours might have been telling you about me, but none of it's true.'
'Oh,' I said, 'they've had nothing but good to say about you.'
We haven't spoken since.

We've been recording. The first thing we did was install the studio. I built walls, real ones with double thicknesses of plasterboard - or sheet rock as they call it over here. could be a genre that:
'How would you describe your music?' (A stupid but popular question - you don't describe it, you play it and people listen)
'Well, it's what we call sheet rock...'
In the old French house Amy's work room was directly above the studio. She was almost vibrated off her chair on a daily basis by errant bass frequencies. If a band came to record she quite often had to leave the house and spend a day in the library. Actually that's not true - you couldn't spend a day in the library where we lived, just three hours in the morning and a couple more hours in the afternoon, depending on the day of the week, after a two hour lunch break in a cafe being ogled by dining farmers.
We haven't had any bands in yet but we have had Chris Butler playing drums on several tracks on our new album. Chris is a fierce drummer - I found myself wearing headphones more as ear protectors than for monitoring purposes. Chris had a band called The Waitresses who had a hit with I Know What Boys Like. He was on Stiff Records courtesy of the Akron compilation. He played the bass on one of my favourite Stiff Records - Yankee Wheels by Jayne Aire & The Belvederes. He's my hero! He's also the greatest drummer I've ever recorded.
(OK Chris, if you could make the cheque out to cash...)
The new Eric & Amy album is going to be eleven or so original tunes - I think we've cleverly circumnavigated the tricky third album syndrome by doing a covers album second. Usually by the third album all the good ideas are used up and there's been no time to conjour up some new ones. But we've had all the time in the world between fixing up houses, packing containers, applying for Green Cards, putting up ceilings, braving floods, hurricanes, gigs in places like Louth and that dreadful place where Harold Shipman came from... so we've written a concept album about sheet rock. It's called Sheet Rock...

Actually some of that's a lie.

I must be off now, I've got some bass frequencies to round up. It's good to be back.