something changed this weekend. none of us are sure what it is. i can describe all the stuff that happened to us, but that won’t quite do it. whatever changed is something slippery and ethereal and resistive of the confines of words. if you twisted my arm for an explanation, i’d probably say that each of the members of the band sacrificed his or her sense of earthly selfhood in favor of becoming one with the amorphous organism that is bella’s bartok, in much the same way that a martyr dies for a cause, but without the dying. yet.
we set sail thursday afternoon as mark, donning a checkered apron and a big wooden spoon, leaned from the door and waved goodbye like a sad italian grandmother. so far, so good. van culture was in full-on, gooey, stage-two fermentation, and everyone was feeling it.
we docked our van, several hours later, in the generally friendly atmosphere that is winooski, vermont (winsooki, to asher, who is terribly dyslexic). we were at a place called the monkey house, which had hill farmstead beer on tap. so fucking good. we proceeded to drink a lot. as an aside, a fine gentleman who calls himself Old Man Luedecke played on the following evening. we like to say we opened for him, 24 hours in advance.
anyway, we played a good, loud set of your human music, and, knowing we had nowhere to stay, between songs kept saying, “we’re bella’s bartok! if you like us, TAKE US HOME WITH YOU!” hoping that we were getting the point across.
it worked. a fellow from the opening band did indeed take us home with him. to scenic burlington, vermont, no less. thing was, he had only a cold, cold basement of cement floors to put us in. i am a princess, so i instead fashioned myself a bed of beanbags and tapestries in the living room, but from what i hear, things did not go well in the basement. tyler got sick and “couldn’t tell what was a dream and what was a fever hallucination,” and sean van deusen’s body rejected the entire situation and came upstairs and ate chicken wings that were not his while standing creepily over our sleeping host and just kind of staring blankly. from my princess bed, i wondered what the fuck was going on until i later learned he was sleepwalking.
the next morning, after painfully extracting ourselves from the basement (not me; i slid softly from my slumber as a trio of bluebirds alighted upon my arm and sang me gently awake in three-part harmony), we found ourselves in the midst of the sunniest, happiest day that burlington has seen in some time, and so could no longer complain of our myriad ailments. we went to a bakery and the proprietess, realizing we were on a tour of some kind, gave us the remaining baked goods and coffee at the end of the day. promptly thereafter, she realized it was, in fact, emphatically NOT the end of the day, and that she had just given away loads of stuff for no reason. we all had a good laugh.
we had some 12 hours before we were to play that night at the radio bean, so we went to busk (anyone know the etymology of this word? firstname.lastname@example.org) on church street. for those of you unfamiliar with burlington, church street is a big, lovely, brick road in the heart of the town which only allows foot traffic. we set up between two giant stone pillars and played music, and it quickly turned into this theatre-like thing with a big crowd of people. we earned a whole lot of one-dollar bills and went to spend them on hill farmstead beer.
like i say, there are no band photos because the person taking the photo is always someone in the band. the only one we were able to get was this.
later we saw the resonant rogues playing on the same street, so we all went to the bean and sat out on the porch and drank tasty beer in the sun. at some point jesse and i got up to go down the street for something, and, as you know, i constantly have a mandolin in my hands. as i was walking, a bunch of drunk old men stumbled out from their porch onto the street:
“HEY MAN! know any… guns ‘n’ roses?!”
i dunno, it’s just not really mandolin music. (anyway, the joke’s on them, because i hear jesse playing “welcome to the jungle” in the other room, so HA, we DO know some guns ‘n’ roses.)
so i played them a bluegrass version of a gillian welch song, and this seemed to appease them. they were grabbing our arms and shaking us and stuff (jesse does NOT like this sort of thing), presumably trying to physically squeeze more music out of us. then a lovely young lady chanced to pass by the whole scene and they kind of took her in: “and THIS girl will sing for us!” she looked uncomfortable, and so were we, so we all left together, and thusly was a friendship born.
“i’m having a surprise party for my friend tonight,” said she, “come play music at it!”
“nothing’s more surprising than a big group of strangers in your house,” said i.
the day passed, more sunshine, more crisp vermont beer. also, my favorite piece of graffiti of all time.
soon we found ourselves walking toward the party. we were greeted with open arms and big mason jars full of this weird concoction that had, like, kombucha and tequila and ginger in it or something. people in burlington are nice people. we played hell of music for and with our newfound friends, and after hanging out for a while, realized that a bunch of the people there were from Moses & The Electric Co.! coincidence. anyway, we all sang happy birthday at some point, and it was by far the best rendition any of us had ever heard. in retrospect, the party was probably full of secret music nerds, because there was like a twelve-part harmony going. so rich. i wish my birthdays were that good.
soon we had to leave to play at the bean. we made a really spectacular exit where we marched out of the house through the party playing and singing “Talk on Indolence,” and every time we entered a new room, someone in it would do the harmonies. we said our goodbyes as the song was going and then marched down the stairs. it was EPIC. then, when we got outside, we realized we forgot a bunch of stuff and had to go back in. totally ruined everything.
we played then our third “show” of the day, at the radio bean, and it was completely the best show in a long time. dancing people where there were once no dancing people, etc. also, there was a great moment where at the end of asher (you know how it has that weird time signature?) some guy in the crowd was yelling at us, “that’s hard to dance to!” and so i yelled at him, “shut up, NARC!” and everyone laughed really hard and agreed that he was definitely a narc. ooh, and i snuck up on someone in the front row who happened to have her head turned while i was singing the intro to strange ones and when she turned back she realized i was like three inches from her face, and jumped with a yelp. but people from burlington are cool, so she wasn’t mortified for life. later i apologized.
we had to drive home that night, so we did. we slept for one hour and asher woke us up by blasting Superhuman Happiness and massaging us gently, one by one. we set sail for the LAUNCH festival in lancaster, pennsylvania. after a few hours we stopped to eat, and only then realized that asher had driven us way down the end of long island for no reason while no one was looking. we ate at a weird diner around a big circular table, because we refuse to dine in any other fashion.
there’s a funny thing where whenever we leave asher alone, he gets into these… situations. he left us to wander around this diner, and these two old jewish ladies captured him, thinking he was auditioning for american idol (tryouts must have been in town that day). they kept telling him that jimmy fallon was their second cousin, and to email him. we will not, because that is weird.
we made it down to lancaster without a hitch. it should be noted that our van does not play music, and so we just sing songs wherever we go (see last post). digressive perhaps, but a good visual nonetheless.
we played outdoors at this festival. after hearing a few of the bands that came before us, our reaction was this: “oh shit, we are about to SERIOUSLY freak out some squares when we play.” but fearless as always, we took the stage and opened with that a capella so calm, relaxed that we sometimes do, figuring that if we were going to freak out squares, we may as well be up front about it. and oh, the looks on people’s faces was priceless. but eventually and inevitably they got into it and even the older folks danced all night.
then we danced for a while in an alley.
then we tried to go home. and in a way, we did, because i’m writing this at home right now. but…
we were driving in new jersey at about three in the morning when the van gave a lurch.
“uhh, everything cool up there, chris?” jesse asked.
“yep. totally,” i replied.
then the van slowed to a halt in the middle of the highway.
after a few minutes of sitting there and all being too scared to get out because cars were whizzing by us at ninety miles an hour, a cop saw us. he gave us a redneck tow (pushed our van with his car) to the side of the highway as he yelled commands through a loudspeaker.
“TO THE RIGHT! THE RIGHT! GO! NO ONE’S COMING!”
he approached as amory was putting out a cigarette, but van-essa kind of smells like weed a bunch of the time, and the cop was like, “is that what i think it is?” and we were like, “WE ARE NOT THAT STUPID.” he chuckled and eventually we learned to get along and so we gave him a CD. i can imagine that he won’t like it very much.
we got towed to some parking lot in new jersey and slept in the van. we awoke the next morning, sunday, sunburnt and aching, and set to work trying to fix the thing. we could not. we got it towed again to the only place open on sunday, Repairs on Wheels, our new best friends (details to follow).
it was a repair shop in the hasidic jewish neighborhood of brooklyn. they were very kind, although they only had bad news. they put the van aside, and we sat in it and drank beer, contemplating our situation. after a bit, we left to go get food, leaving asher with the van. and remember, when we leave asher alone, he gets into situations. so when we returned twenty minutes later, we found him in the auto shop playing guitar and singing loud folk songs in russian and yiddish with the whole shop joining in, and one of the mechanics playing mandolin. they must have found out he was jewish.
after this they tried a lot harder to fix the van. we waited a while, our spirits never faltering. after receiving bad news after bad news, we realized we’d be staying the night, and so jesse and amory took a train home to their “jobs” that they “had to be at” or whatever, and asher, tyler, susan van deusen, and i all walked across town to stay at a friend’s house.
we play music as we walk, because it eases the pain, and there were a few cool moments where people would bike past us, then turn their bikes around and kind of canter slowly next to us as we played, then shout, “thanks!” and bike off into the night.
we got some beer with food stamps (you can do that in new york) and chinese tacos (yummy) and sat down to eat on a random street in brooklyn in the middle of the night. a passing lady asked us for a cigarette, but we didn’t have one. we ate, and a few minutes later, the same lady passed us going the other direction, smoking.
“you found your cigarette!” i said.
“yeah,” she said, “you want one?”
she gave us one, and then proceeded to offer us a dollar as well. it was at that moment we realized: we look fucking homeless. this lady thinks we are homeless. we were sitting in the street drinking beer and playing guitar and cackling like madmen because we were exhausted from sleeping in a van, and we look completely god damn homeless.
we refused her dollar.
we stayed with a friend, woke up at seven, and trudged across town in the rain to the auto shop for more bad news. the van was not doing well. in fact, it remains in brooklyn as i write this.
so we spent our last sixty dollars renting a fancy new car for the day to drive it back to northampton. i went a hundred and twenty miles an hour. we drank beer in connecticut, the “no open container law” state.
when we finally made it home, something, as i said before, was different about all of us. even after writing this, i’m still not sure what it is. in fact, when you see one of us, take a look deep into our eyes and see if you don’t agree.
– Fancy Kerrigan