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sxsw2014 Thu Mar 13 2014
Robbie Fulks still has cat problems, but I think he's getting to a very Zen place about it. What follows is a relating of his latest travails involving: the cat, long drives in a noteworthy van, thoughts of crumpling crotch parts, and a bit more about the cat. This is getting epic.
Here's one more way of halving humanity, or dividing it into two unequal groups: people who habitually fret over every niggling detail of daily living even when it's clearly unproductive and useless to do that, and people who project ease and confidence through the very worst of it — people who seem to assume a nearly medical duty, of propping up the rest of the race with empty but nonetheless soothing ministrations, saying, sometimes implicitly through their bearing and sometimes aloud, "Don't worry!" The pilots I know through my son, on duty or off, and a lot of lawyers, and many of the spouses of each, and certain (though not all) graduates of elite colleges: solidly in group two. Most of my musician friends, on the other hand, and most of those in my and my wife's family, and I myself — most people generally, I imagine — are in the first. There is so much to worry unproductively about. Worry after worry leading nowhere in particular and followed by certain extinction. I think that an apparently relaxed disposition must not be deep-grained, but a shallow facade. After adjusting for income, we are all facing the same small routine challenges, and same large unsolvable one.
The cat conundrum is the central thing right now. I call it a conundrum because now she appears occasionally and looks at me reprovingly before disappearing again — I was so close to nabbing her twice today but she got away. As of this morning, when I woke, she was still missing in action, and I had slept little due to worrying — every little noise I heard including that of the cat still safe indoors presented the image of the cat stuck under the deck and clawing to get out — so over morning coffee I started calling assorted people to worry aloud to them.
Robbie Gjersoe voiced outrage on my behalf. "You don't go away and leave your pets to a stranger and expect everything to work out," he said with feeling. He seemed to be jumping ahead to some kind of trial, with me as defendant and the homeowners as the aggrieved plaintiffs. "I'm glad you're on my side," I told him, "but I don't think they're to blame, and anyway it's not a dispute. It's just a bad situation, and I'm upset not so much because of being at fault as because an innocent creature is in danger and maybe suffering, and I just wish I could...turn back time...and not having a course of action is frustrating." Robbie wanted me to take heart in my essential innocence, which might have been comforting but it seemed too much like advice given you by someone on your payroll.
When I phoned my wife I agitatedly ran over the escape scene. "The maddening thing is that I wasn't walking out with her behind me, I was facing the cat, opening the door. There's no excuse. I saw her there, and I thought I could pass by her and shut the door. But I wildly misjudged her skills."
"People figure this out, you know. They have a bag of groceries in their arm, they put their leg out, it's not such a complex thing," she said, unkindly.
"Yes. I put my leg out and she just ran right around it. I yelled 'Stop!' and I chased her, but there was no way, my legs were stiff from running and she was no doubt faster than me anyway."
"I'm surprised she didn't respond at once when you firmly said 'stop'," said my wife with naked contempt. "That's usually a foolproof move with cats: 'Stop!'"
I rang up Beth, the sister-in-law, as I think you'd call her, of the man whose place this is. "Beth," I said. "It's awful. It's been, like, 17 hours. That cat could be anywhere."
"Don't worry!" said Beth brightly. "If it were Chicago, maybe you should worry, but here, the weather is nice all week. I think she'll come back if you put some food near the door. But I wouldn't spend one second worrying about it, not one second!"
I put food by the back door and walked out the front. There were people across the street, standing still. It would not be unfair to describe their faces as ashen. They were looking, I could see, at Jimmie Dale Gilmore's van there in the drive. It did cut a striking figure amid the idyllic and tastefully appointed west Austin neighborhood. I ignored the rubberneckers and strode manfully across the lawn, like Quixote, boarded my Rocinante-on-acid, and went to San Antonio. Once there, I picked up Ben Surratt, Missy Raines, and Shad Cobb. Missy and Shad are playing with me this week (bass fiddle and fiddle) and Ben is doing front-of-house. As I pulled to the curb at arrivals, they were looking at the vehicle in wonderment. When I told them whose it was, they were over the moon.
The van. (Photo courtesy Robbie Fulks)
"Smokey's van!" they all said with real awe. They're all big Big Lebowski fans, knowing much of the dialogue by heart, and they seem to admire Jimmie greatly for his role in it. "Smokey's van could only look like this," said Shad Cobb appreciatively. Every time it rattled or creaked rounding a curve, they fairly broke into applause. The thing was pretty shaky at high speeds. For a time you would forget what you were inside, and that you, the occupants, were the only ones in your environment that weren't combatively confronted with its drippy graphics. ("My face, I don't mind it/I'm standing behind it" as the old John Hartford song goes.) Then you'd see other motorists giving you the stink-eye and you'd remember. "The odometer is broken," I announced, though no one had asked. "It's got either 101,000 miles on it or 400,000, or possibly some in-between figure." Shad nodded gravely. "That's how Smokey's van should be," he declared.
Missy is a major cat person. She had some good ideas. "Dogs will move toward home in tighter circles," she told me. "Cats won't. Yet they have a reliable sense of location. I don't think you need worry. Here's what to do. Put the other cat in a closed room, then open the back door. Sit where the cat won't be able to see you — maybe you could see her, as she enters the house, but she can't see you — and do something completely quiet. Read a book. The cat will probably come in within an hour. But you need to be invisible and silent. She's surely frightened of you."
The roundtrip to San Antonio took a little over 4 hours because of festival congestion and a dramatic semi overturn on I-35 north that had traffic backed up from Austin to Buda. I got home a bit before 3 and ran and showered. When I came out, the cat was sitting on the deck by two glass doors, staring at me. She appeared ready to come in. Naturally I thought I'd open the glass doors. But what if that scared her away? In any event, the door was locked, and I discovered that I didn't have or couldn't find that key. So I opened the back door and worriedly waited an hour, trying to be still, but sneezing explosively from something that got in my head during the run. The cat wandered away at some point.
The Continental Club was where I was playing tonight. I don't know if it's appropriate to talk about my thing, but since there's no virtually other music being discussed here, maybe I will. The musician that preceded me, Luke Winslow-King by name, was very good and I recommend you go see him. He was playing in a duo with his wife, who was sitting in a chair rubbing a washboard. Luke played the National guitar real smoothly and he contravened the Bloodshot aesthetic by smiling radiantly through his set, ingratiating himself to all. He looked like young and handsome Alan Rickman.
There were plenty of microphone-related troubles during my set, which I was gloomily anticipating, because the Continental's a distance from a bluegrass/acoustic room and the 10 minutes you get to set up monitors at SxSW doesn't quite get you there. Each time a ballad popped up on my little 9-song set list (there were three, but I skipped one), I thought "Uh-oh, should I really?" But I am committed to challenging drinking standing audiences in bars with soft music. Plenty guys do braver odder things on bar stages (mainly with higher volume and bigger projection, an easier and duller way to go I think) and sometimes people naturally respond to quiet music by getting quieter, at least if they're there wanting to hear you. Also, for God's sake, it's the music I'm doing, and I want to be behind it. You can be too accommodating to circumstances when it comes to your art. But I'm laying it on too thick here with the negatives; feedback and ballads aside, I think we went over fine and it was worth coming to the club. I'm hoping for better onstage sound tomorrow at the Broken Spoke — doubt it though.
After playing I schmoozed with some people in back: Sean Coakley, the radio promoter; Jeff B. Davis, the supernice comedian dude, and his bluegrass-playing, funny-stuff-doing colleagues; Jeremy Tepper, of Sirius/XM; Mojo Nixon, also of Sirius, who threatened to knock me out with his meaty fists because of something dismissive I once apparently said in print about his goofball music; Bobby Bare Jr., who needed a battery; Lydia Loveless's husband; Jon Langford, just off the Greyhound from Houston; and many more I can't bring to mind because they were even less famous than these people.
Missy and Ben were excited to hear Lucinda Williams play at some venue downtown, and off went the whole group, all four of them, excepting me. I love Lucinda, but when I thought about the drive and the lateness and the noise, and above all the howling drunken crowd, my dick crumpled. And you know, sitting and writing about the day just done, in a quiet empty house, is one of the pleasantest things there is to do at midnight. It's delicious! I was excited to get back.
As I rounded the driveway, the cat — her name is Mrs. Norris — was sitting on the front porch. I walked blithely past her, pretending not to notice, opened the door, turned off the alarm system, and got two bowls of food off the kitchen floor, placing them just within the front door. She sat frozen in place. "I'll pretend she means nothing to me, lure her in with a dish of Proactive Health Hairball Care Iams, then slam the door behind her, emit a sinister laugh, and drop into slumb'rous bliss!" I thought. I went to the hippievan, got my guitar and bag, and turned back toward the porch with a light step. She lit off like Formula One. Now it's an hour later, and nothing more has happened. Don't worry! I tell myself. Go to sleep. Everything will be better.
Robbie Fulks' current (and subject to change) SXSW Music Fest schedule is below:
Tuesday, March 11, 1pm - Trade show
Wednesday, March 12, 9pm - Continental Club
Thursday, March 13, 4pm - Broken Spoke
Friday, March 14, 12:45pm - Yard Dog
Saturday, March 15, 2pm - Brooklyn Country Cantina