Robert Blake in Concert
ROBERT SARAZIN BLAKE | Stories from the Road

[April 2004 | Middlebury, Vermont]

Eddie was a talker. He was sitting in the Binghamton, NY bus station drinking a King Cobra 40 ounce bottle of malt liquor. He had an hour to wait for the bus to Albany and was trying to chat it up with the young woman on the bench. She was not interested in having a bit of chat. She curtly responded to his inquiries and took out a book. Eddie was not daunted by the book. He leaned forward in his seat and tried to catch her eyes between the edge of one page and the start of the next. I was, as well, waiting for the bus to Albany, using the one-hour layover in Binghamton to change guitar stings. Attempting to break some of the tension in the waiting room, I asked Eddie where he was heading. He shot back “ What do you want Billy Joel?” A smile came to the woman’s face, I feared for my guitar.

Luckily, a potentially hostile moment turned friendly when Eddie realized I was actually going to listen to him. Then, of course, as all good drunks do, Eddie wanted to sing. “Play some blues” he smiled- and I did, starting with the classic chunk-a-chunk in E “ No No No,” he cried, “I need something sad, something twangy!”. Finally, I stumbled across something between Bad to the Bone and Smoke on the Water. Hearing this, his malt liquor breath howled in happiness-“Yes yes yes that’s it!!” The power of delusion came over the man and Eddie, was Eddie at the Greyhound Station no more. He was on stage-and the stage was large. He closed his eyes, got to his feet, swayed, and sang for everyone to hear.

It was the real blues. 1000 wannabe stars at open mics and blues jams couldn’t compete with what Eddies had. He was waiting for the dirty dog to take him to Albany, where his friends had refused to pick him up, he’d just been laid off his mobile home fabrication job, he was drunk on Malt Liquor, and it was 10:30 in the morning.

“In the bus station, I got no ride” he bellowed. “I’m Drunk! Girl won’t talk to me-says she’s married, has someone to carry her bags- I’m drunk” He sang for the sold out audience. He was a happy man. He solicited two different feels from me on guitar-a happy blues, and of coarse, something funky, again and again he sang his story - it was nearly musical. I asked him if he had a friend who played guitar “ I ain’t got nothing”. I believed him.

As the bus pulled in for Albany, the cops pulled in for Eddie. I got on the bus and headed to Middlebury. Eddie, if he had kept his mouth shut, could have sobered up and caught the next bus, but, Eddie was a talker.

[April 2004 | Middlebury, Vermont]

Middlebury College, like many institutions of higher learning, has been victim to Mall-ification. Plopped down without proper guidance one could as likely think they’re in a strip-mall food court as in a study hall for young minds. Hmmm.

The show was to happen in a disaster of modern architecture where walls are all plowed down in the name of openness making the coffee shop, bar, study tables, pool table, TV room, and yes, music listening venue all one in the same. If anyone has ever been moved by music in this room, their listening powers are well beyond mine. I’ve learned to steer clear of these rooms by recognizing the dangerous code words: coffee shop, free to public, good exposure, great for folk music. The saving grace of the experience was sharing the stage with local songwriter, Anais Mitchell. She’s good, very good. We had a weekend of gigs lined up together starting in her town, heading east, and ending in Northampton, MA. She met me at the Middlebury bus station and took me out to her parent’s farm for dinner before the show. She was raised in Middlebury, where her father is an English prof. As part of his English courses, Prof. Mitchell’s students are invited out to the farm during spring lambing season to spend the night in the barn and write about the experience. When I arrived, 50 lambs had been born, by the end of the weekend the count was over a hundred.

Her grandmother served us dinner and we headed to the concert. I plowed through my set, at times trying to engage the table of crossword puzzle puzzlers or the anatomy students coloring muscles but mostly just whipping the mule and working my way down the field. The next morning Anais woke me up and, in the early spring morning, I watched twin lambs birthed and suckled. We got in the car and drove to Portsmouth.

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NEEDLES

I did not intend to spend another night in California but now it looks as though I might. The original plan was to be in Tucson. A few days back however, I received the way expected email saying “Oh, I’m really sorry but, you know how I told you I’d promote a show for you here in Tucson two months ago? Well, I can’t. I didn’t write sooner because I didn’t think you’d be checking email from the road”. The grassroots tour is always a colorful mix of ups and downs. At this point I was glad of two things 1) I had emailed him one more time and 2) he had enough respect for me not to suggest I come into town and play an open mic.

With Tucson off the list, I headed straight for my next gig in Flagstaff. I left my grandparents house in Orange County Wednesday morning after filling two plastic grocery bags full of grapefruits, oranges, and limes from their backyard. I was listening to Townes Van Zandt when, 50-miles shy of the Arizona border, the ship went down. It just stopped. The van died. It was running fine making 65-mph going up hill, and then it turned off. I coasted down the hill I had just topped and stopped the van by a roadside callbox. I called a tow truck and began to investigate the engine. As far as I could tell everything was normal. The tow truck arrived and towed me into Needles, California.

After about an hour waiting in the auto shop parking lot Dave the owner of A+ Autoworks came over, and with the aid of a flashlight took a quick look and found there was no spark. It being 6pm and dark, we’d have to wait until the morning to take a deeper look. It was a warm dry night. It felt like a summer night. I hung around in the auto shop and shot the breeze with Dan, the traveling sign painter who was working on a new sign for the shop reading “RV REPAIR”. Dan had broken down in Needles himself and had decided to stay. He, his wife, and his two children were staying in a motel a few blocks away. Dan had talked the motel owner into trading the price for the room for some work around the motel. He started by painting a sign, then painted some rooms. Finished with where he was staying, he asked around town and found work at some other shops. That was three months ago, he had no plans to be leaving soon. Dan’s family had moved to Blaine, WA his senior year of high school and he had worked at a drive-in theatre in Custer where x-rated films where shown. As we talked about the northwest, a small red car pulled up, and the driver asked for Dave. The woman in the car began yelling at him and asking for batteries. Dave gave her the batteries. She sped away only to return a few minutes later and start shouting insults at Dave and his 12 year old daughter -- “Everyone knows’ your daughter is a lesbian. That’s why she doesn’t have a boyfriend. She’s a little bitch. I’m going to have my little sister kick her ass at school tomorrow. She better watch out!” At this point Dave began to hook up the garden hose and sprayed her in the window shouting “Get the fuck out of here. You’re a stupid fucking bitch.” The woman in the car nearly rammed into a few cars parked in the lot, and then ran into Dave, coming just short of knocking him all the way over. At this point, Dave kicked her side-view mirror off the side of the car, sending it to land atop the two story building, and continued to spray her with the garden hose.

Apparently the driver of the car was Dave’s ex-girlfriend, and there were still a few unresolved issues. At this point I was still hopeful the van would be fixed and was glad she hadn’t run into my van as she did the fence around the parking lot. Soon the police came, and took the shabbiest police report I could imagine. Rather than asking for the facts of the event he asked important questions such as: “Why does she think your daughter is a lesbian?” “How long have you been together” and “What kind of sign are you making over there?” The police left, Dave and Dan went home, and I made a sandwich in the van and headed to the Cozy Bear Lounge -- the only bar in town. As I sipped my $1.25 glass of Budweiser, I told the loud-talking truck driver from Illinois that I had broken down. The bartender overheard and cried “Oh no, broken down huh, that’s the only reason anyone ever moves here.”

The next morning I wrote in my journal “The shop was supposed to open at 7am, but the boss didn’t show up until closer to 7:30. Around 8am one of the mechanics came over to take a look. The distributor isn’t turning. This means things are either really bad or a total disaster”.

Dave was hopeful he’d be able to get the van back on the road by the following night. I started thinking of looking for work in Needles while I waited. The waitress’s voice rang in my head. I grabbed my guitar, my suitcase of CD’s, and headed out to the freeway on-ramp to hitch to my next gig.

Published in WHAT'S UP MAGIZINE, March 2003


GUITAR CASE

On April 29th I took a train form Philadelphia to NYC Penn Station, the C train to JKK, and Eir Lingus flight 112 to Dublin. I brought a small blue backpack full of CD’s and my Martin D-35 in my just arrived, flight-worthy, indestructible case. I was a bit embarrassed to walk around with the monster truck of guitar cases, which seemed to shout, “Hey steal me. I’m worth a lot of $.” But I figured I’d get used to it. As I settled into the weight of the case, a woman in Penn Station walked by me saying, “Wow, what a case! It makes me wonder what’s inside!” Within five minutes, she was followed by a man in the public toilet saying, “Hey, there. What’s in the case?”

“Uh, a guitar,” I replied for the second time. I was starting to look back on last year’s flight to Ireland, where I had carried the guitar in a soft case, with a bit of nostalgia. This year, for the price of a 2nd guitar, I bought a case I could check. I was finally assured my guitar would arrive in one piece. No worries about an ornery flight attendant not allowing the guitar on board. No traveling with a second rate guitar, while the guitar I loved sat at home safe and bored. My case was a bit much, but I had made my bed.

The flight for Dublin left NYC at 9:30pm. I got on, drank a few Heinekens, slept, woke up, and exited the plane at 10 AM Ireland time. I followed the crowd down to the baggage claim and anxiously waited for the guitar. I waited. I watched the other bags arrive. I watched the other passengers pick up luggage. I waited. Deep breaths. In the calmest voice I had, I asked the Eir Lingus employees if there was another area I could expect to find a guitar. They asked which flight I was on, checked with the baggage workers, and calmly told me the plane had been unloaded and the guitar must still be in NYC. I felt like throwing up. It would likely be in the next morning, and they could simply ship it to me. They asked for my address. I gave them the only Irish address I had on me. Unfortunately, it had nothing to do with where I’d be gigging. The chance of the guitar finding me as I moved around performing with borrowed guitars, before I returned to Dublin to fly home, seemed slim. I gave them my Bellingham address and left the baggage area feeling lost. Pulling at the back of my mind was a baggage worker in JFK who took my guitar and a suitcase from another passenger while we were in line. I was fearfully starting to doubt his validity. I was coming to terms with the thought of my D-35, and new fantastic case, gone forever. First my van, now my guitar, it was time to rethink being a traveling musician.

The plan was to take a city bus into Dublin, meet Clodagh, for lunch and then ride a regional bus three hours north to my gig in Belfast. I called Clodagh, asked her to let the Belfast folks know I’d need to borrow a guitar, and waited for the bus into Dublin.

The bus arrived. I paid my fare and climbed to the 2nd floor of the double-decker bus. In front of me sat a young woman traveling by herself. I did what one should when traveling alone and opened the door to conversation, asking her where she was from. With a French-Canadian accent, Marie explained she was coming from Montreal for a two-week stay in Limerick. When she asked if I was on holiday in Ireland, I responded, somewhat defeated, that I came over to play a few gigs but my guitar had not arrived. “Guitar!” she exclaimed, “I saw a guitar in the baggage area. It couldn’t come out onto the belt because it couldn’t fit through the passageway. It was banging and banging up against the wall and no one seemed to be doing anything about it!”

Where once there was darkness now there was light.

I ran down the steps, asked the bus driver to let me out, and walked the mile back to the airport. Once I made it through the security check points, and back to the luggage area, I saw my guitar, sitting safe as could be in the case which had just paid for itself.

The rest of the trip was a gift. Every time I strummed my guitar I was reminded of how lucky I was. I played that night to 15 radicals in an activist/anarchist café serving “the cheapest food in western Europe”. We ate our diner, sat around candles, and sipped wine while I sang my songs from another rainy place very far away. Afterwards, I went with the folks from the café to the local pub where there was a traditional session in the corner and the first of many locals fired into to me about how pissed they were with the U.S. and especially Bush.

The next morning, we celebrated May Day by planting a potato patch on unused British military soil.

Published in WHAT'S UP MAGIZINE, APRIL 2003



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