Cleaning my house, I found this tape. A TAPE! What a relic. It’s my first album, a demo my dear friend Dan recorded for me twenty years ago this month using his fancy recording equipment. I was still in high school and I played open mic nights at a place called Java Jones in Isla Vista, near UCSB. The emcees of the open mic night used to jokingly introduce me as “the girl who needs to get home by 10” because I was the youngest person there and had a curfew, unlike the rest of the college crowd. My kinda-sorta boyfriend brought his guitar and played a song too sometimes. A friend of ours did a really horrible standup set wearing a weird pair of coveralls for no apparent reason. There was this old guy who sang “Puff the Magic Dragon” backwards and this minor-key folk song I still remember that went “You will not see him later, he’s the expert masturbator.” He was hilarious.
I was not hilarious. I was a mess of a human being that channeled every ounce of said mess into these songs, which I’m too mortified to even listen to anymore, even though I know they’re pretty good considering I was seventeen. At one point I refer to a “Botticelli statue” and Botticelli was a painter you silly person! I played a few places that don’t exist anymore, including a club in downtown Santa Barbara where I had a regular Monday night gig. Dan used to come with me to every show, as my manager, with a hard suitcase full of these tapes to sell. I wonder who still has these tapes out there.
I’ve been in a lot of bands over the years, but playing by myself had its own particular terrors and rewards. Alone, with nothing but an acoustic guitar and a mic, you have no one to hide behind. If you forget a word, everyone can hear it. If you play a wrong note, no noise drowns it out. You have no one to banter with, and I’m so awkward at charming onstage banter. On the upside, everyone can actually hear your words. Everyone can appreciate the care you put into the lyrics (or the embarrassing mistakes. BOTTICELLI STATUE!). I’ve been in bands where my bandmates don’t even know what I’m saying until we record because there are drums, bass, distorted guitars to compete with. And I never felt like I touched people so much as when I played alone, baring my soul in ways that I would never dare do now. Once a random guy working at a record store told me he had my tape and loved it. Once I got a fan letter from a man who worked at the Men’s Wearhouse and saw me play at a Borders’ cafe. Once I was a brave teenager and I played shows alone and I sold my tapes for $4. “25 cents a song!” I said cheerfully into the mic. It’s been a long time since I played solo. I kind of miss it, and I kind of never want to do it again.
I can't believe it’s been twenty years. I wrote a poem called “No Power” after visiting my dying grandfather and turned it into a song, and turned that song into an album, a little piece of pain archived and still out there in the world. That’s what this music was, really. It was all the sadness and death and madness and garbage of my soul turned into something other people wanted to listen to, even if just for a brief moment in time. I guess some parts of it are even beautiful, in a way—though it’s no Botticelli statue.