INTO THE VORTEX
This is the thing. I never went to summer camp. Never got to compete in team tournament play. Capture the flag. Campfire confessions. Walks in the woods that turn into directional, fear-laced challenges -- to get back. Get back to. Get lost.
Pinball, as amply referenced on this site, got me into a solo "career." Another night of slam, cajole and time-stopping on a dime with companion Steven Joerg. Then heading former Antietam label Homestead, he helped us hatch our latest plan. Making a disc with all of my pals after a decade or so of building a music family in the Northern Territory sounded like great fun.
My newly acquired Gibson J-200, bought during our time backing Syd Straw, was beginning to spin out tunes a little different from the sound of Antietam jams. So the acoustic sound was the jumping-off point. And, with all three of us exploring life outside of Antietam in the recent past, collaboration was in the air.
I asked and everyone I asked was kind enough to say yes. Tim took the reins of being my editor and steerer for the first time. That was a new way of working for us after fifteen years.
While playing with Syd, we jammed on a couple of occasions with Ron Ward, of Speedball Baby. We had known Ron from the wayback days of early Homestead when we shared bills with his friends, The Volcano Suns, and had met up in Boston. He hipped us to Jon Williams's (ex-Volcano Suns) northern Vermont studio, Vortex.
A cabin. Fairly deep woods. Deep enough to harbor beaver dams, an ex-NASA engineer now willfully off the grid in his teepee, fueled by ample cases of his yeoman beer offered up to us at most folks' breakfast hour. Mysterious taciturn chubby youth appearing at the door in the middle of the recording of "All Lit Up" inquiring, "Did you lose a pig?" Johnny Stallion, who landed at this latitude and longitude on his aforementioned white mount after man and beast had crossed the country some decades prior, rolling up to Vortex on his steed to chat at some point many days.
Pulling up to the cabin door meant shedding expecations about clock time and the way THINGS ARE DONE. Midlife EST -- inmates. Intimate. Intimidate. Blow the house down in a safety zone. Fortunately my friends were up for ... whatever.
Painting space murals on the control room wall. Building a device to funnel cigarette smoke out of the control room through an 8" diameter tube plus fan on the middle of a mix. Can't do the vocal I want? Move the mikes outside and sing into the trees. Or, sequester upstairs, run cords, and strip naked. Freak out and demand everyone but Tim Tara and Jon go to Montreal for the day. Storm, slash, throw, dart into the moonlit (barely) road and scream at her for hiding behind clouds.
Change course? Invent a game and play it. Start at 2. Start at 4. Stay up through sun/moon/sun cycle. Where is the boundary? How far can I go without being lost forever? If I will never be able to say it, I can at least dress it in an armor of shriek, wail, stab and strum and send it out in a top of the world transmission from Radio Vortex.
Jon is a scientist. If there was a hint of a crazy idea or a different way to so something, our session would move into Mr. Wizard territory until it worked or didn't. Which is how I ended up playing the propane tank outside with heavy sticks on "Northern Star." Plus, the full immersion live work cook play frolic protocol was inspiring. Getting the three of us (or four or five, depending on the session) out of life into deep life together.
And when we left the rural route, joined the two-lane, then slid onto the ramp, and folded into the main artery of I-81 each time, the particular Antietam EST session behind us, I was often confused about extremities, how true true is -- there was a lot to chew on in real life. It was like going hunting and bringing home the prey of my desires; the things I wouldn't normally let myself say to myself. Childish, privileged behavior. But at the time it was the depth charge that blew all my bull out of the water. Out of the Vortex and on with life.
"Northern Star" (Bourbon County)
"Tranquility Base" (Live @ Cbgb's With Ira Kaplan And Georgia Hubley, Bc Release Show)
"Burn" (Ear And Echo)
"All Lit Up" (Ear And Echo)
Click to see enlargements
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