The Hero With A Thousand / 500 Faces

Curtis McMurtry of Austin and Sarah Lawrence at Earthwise@20 of Palo Alto and Menlo Park, November, 2014 photo by Mark Weiss, he of the bad finger snapping

Curtis McMurtry of Austin and Sarah Lawrence at Earthwise@20 of Palo Alto and Menlo Park, November, 2014 photo by Mark Weiss, he of the bad finger snapping

If you are with me so far you will notice a simple math problem in the headline: “A thousand” divided by 500 equals two. I could have written of the hero with two faces, but that might throw you. I am not saying Curtis McMurtry the Austin-by-way of Westchester County /Sarah Lawrence songwriter is “two-faced” meaning dishonest, I am rolling with his statement that all his songs are either “sad” or “mean”. And this is discrete from the well-known masks of the dramatic muses Thelopene and Mylopene, Comedy and Tragedy. I also said, somewhere between a heckle and a critique mid-concert last night, at Earthwise Productions 20th Year Show, at Cafe Zoe in Menlo Park, California, a stones throw from Palo Alto, lord willing and the crick don’t rise, that he sounds “more lamplighter than Lubbock” or “More Gilbert & Sullivan than Willie Nelson”. He sounds a bit like Andrew Bird, especially whistling and playing his banjo-lele, part banjo part ukelele.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked his show. It is the start of something, surely. I thought enough of him to suggest he try to work with Bird’s manager, Andrea Troolin. I thought of Bill Bragin who used to book Joe’s Pub in New York and now helps program Lincoln Center and the Parks. I am tempted enough to go to LA Sunday night (after taking my dad and lady to La Boheme the Opera matinee) to hear Curtis McMurty one more time at Hotel Cafe. He said he didn’t like Hotel Utah much; I hope he reports to agent my friend Laura Thomas of Combo Plate booking that he liked Menlo Park enough, and better than Hotel Utah.

I thought Curtis, after hanging with him for a spell before the show, although mostly I dropped him off at Faith Bell’s bookstore and he was content to curl up in a corner like a cat and stick his nose into a book, or two, was a sweet enough kid, adjusted to sweet enough and not too bratty after Terry and I spoke about it post-event. (Terry also, for what it was worth, panned my piece, my long and showy intro to Curtis, I read a few minutes or the first 300 words of a 1996 story by Dao Strom, “Chickens” for esoteric bordering on selfish reasons and then said “Dao Strom it turns out is family friends of the Mcmurty’s” and when Curtis indicated that he was tuned up and ready I improvised, like they do in the transits of Shakespeare, a couplet:

And without more ado
From the Five One Two
Here he be
Mick Mer Tree!

We started Curtis about 10 minutes early, at 7:50 not eight such that when his buddy, hosts and his former drummer turned Tesla engineer in Fremont not Deer Creek and girly entered, friend made eye contact and troubadour gave slightly over-obvious mid-song nod so as help him avoid –GADS! — being approached by Gate-keeper and hit up for dough — we did not work out a formal guest list but I was obviously, 20 years and 300 shows into this, way ahead of him or at least step to the step.

Promoter, headliner & fan

Promoter, headliner & fan

I am not embarrassed to admit that whereas my first Earthwise Productions at Cubberley concert featuring Mudwimin (featuring my junior high slow dance partner Mia Levin) had, and I can look this up, 54 paid) my 20-year show had 1 paid. A guy named Chris, fan of all things McMurtry, saw it on his Curtis’ site, had tickets already to Drive By Truckers at Fillmore a 9 p.m. hit, with opener, Preston Sturges or someone as a package, but figured he would double down; a cardiatric rehab worker, tall and Texan and with designer glasses, we posed for a 3-way selfie, promoter, headliner and lone fan. (There were enough guests of the house, of Cathleen Daly and Earthwise, plus Rachel Garlin previewing material from her new cd, which arrived that day from the plant) that unless Curtis rules revisionistly otherwise we had our quorum, our Margaret Meadian small group ready to change the world.

There was something delicious about eating a warmed salami and cheddar sandwich while sitting four feet or less from an Austin based songwriter with my girl and a few friends, beating the cold. This was no ordinary “Foxhole” peoples. And despite the billing, like a cheap amp that only has “reverb”(“sad”) or “compression”(“mean”), there was a God, there was hope, and a future. For Curtis McMurty. And humanity: maybe Faulkner is right and we will not only endure but prevail.

1. Dao Strom’s Chickens and Hus Madsen: Behind him, from the top of the driveway, he heard the dog’s collars jingling and their paws scraping excitedly on the ground as the trailer down banged open against the sharp morning air.

2. Track listing “Respectable Enemy” he definitely played that track although it has a different title, Berkalin Records out of Houston, produced by Will Sexton: “Ghost In My Bed”, “Foxhole” — getting lotsa love at KRSH Santa Rosa; “Sparks in the Wind”; “Eleanor’s Hus I mean House” “Whiskey’s Sweat”, “Down To The Wire”; “Moriah”; “Ezekiel”; “Chaplinesque”; “Gulf Road”; “Isabel” that’s 12 but he played closer to 9 in our little hoot.

3. Rachel Garlin meanwhile was saving up a little for her Dec. 6 shindig at Z-Space in SF and played 8 songs, including a cover from someone Welsh or Scottish, I did not catch but liked the work and maybe recognized it. I will “edita” the detes. I had what I thought a decent heckle/prompt: noting the Shabbat I referenced the family backgrounds of both my performers and glossed Adam Sandler “Hannukah” by saying “better them” in this case McMurtry and Garlin “together and that’s one fine Jew” In the actual song I think he is talking about Goldie Hawn and Paul Newman. Rachel maybe not knowing the reference took me a wee bit literal and said “but I’m a lesbian!”.

4. Terry told me later that as I retreated from first row to my “office in a box / show kit” about song three or four that I started snapping fingers on both hands in a fast faux-Brazilian, Tommy Jordan / Eugenio Gamez flamenco style, for no more than a measure or two, and unnoticed by me this irritated McMurtry enough to have him shake his head “no”. Most of the time he delivers his lines with his eyes fixed on the horizon. Although he did address the audience and share a little about his frustration or bemusement, for example, acting as a Nashville co-writer for hire.
5. He told Terry, my Terry, the visual artist Terry Acebo Davis, something of a rigorous work practice, writing in a notebook or file, a set number of phrases and wordings nearly every day, and I actually am now doubly pleased that I did gift him a copy of Wallace Stegner “Collected Stories” for my little five-years-in 100th Anniversary scheme, CM thereby joining, in Austin alone: WS, FJ, JDG and his own Pappy, JMcM.
6. Further, on Wednesday, February 18, 2009, the night before Wallace Stegner’s 100th birthday, February 19, 2009, in Austin, Texas, I toted a hard copy of Wallace Stegner “CS” to the Continental Club and actually stepped on stage with Jon Dee Graham around 10 p.m. and delivered the biggest clam of a power chord ever heard, I am sure, in honor of my former neighbor the teacher and environmentalist and possible songwriter muse, and then sat thru and enjoyed the next act, the James McMurtry show, although I did not have the courage to follow up with my intention, to invite them in on the project. I recall a bar-back or waitress with a stage name Clara Que Si, or Clara KC jumping on stage with James and delivering a quite-inspired and inspiring bit of go-go. Actually, I pondered just last night if “Clara KC” and Curtis’ baby-mom, Elena Eidelberg or something, could be one and the same. Curtis at one point, suggested that one of his songs was suitable for dancing but there was no colliery “Clara MP”.
7. I caught up with Jon Dee Graham a few nights later, at MoMO’s and he seemed awed and shocked by the prospects of writing a song in reaction to WS, but I think of that as a “yes”. I caught up with James at Slim’s a few years later or ago, circa 2011, at Slims and as the slightly louder Gourds commences to sound, he shouted to me “Wallace Stegner? He was my Dad’s professor when he wrote his first novel…I just read ‘Recapitulation'”. When I suggested that he could substitute a song about that novel for a song about a short story, he said “That is probably harder than you might imagine”. Again, a provisional “yes”.
7.5 and edited in later: Joseph Campbell wrote “Hero With A Thousand Faces” in 1949 and taught at Sarah Lawrence from 1934 for 38 years to 1972 and was also an athlete at Dartmouth just like me!
7.6 another edit: “Balance his, swing yours” about a bunch of people playing tennis at a resort and the varying levels of fronting or hiding behind a mask; reminds that I have been obsessing on youth tennis recently, the little girl — 15 — in my building who is the top high school player in the section but goes to Sacred Heart but not Gunn and the mom of another decent local player, at Menlo-Atherton who I have known but not well since age 10. I’ve known the mom for 40 years I am saying. But not well, I repeat. And god bless Rachel and her partner Lela I think — I can redact if she does not want personal details revealed — and her wee ones, at 3 and 2, Daniel and Nathaniel or something I am thinking immediately and without much scratching like them chickens Webster and Hawthorne or something world-beating. How could they not!? And Curtis had a little joke, sophomoric but probably too true, about the ratio at Sarah Lawrence “the third is in a long-distance relationship” and I idiotically asked him about the hockey team — I am thinking St. Lawrence not Sarah Lawrence. D’oh! Which in the Weissian brain, especially on Peet’s coffee herein nearly 2000 words and two hours, there is or was yesterday at new Mitchell Library in PA proper a book for sale $1 “Simpsons on Philopsophy” but also Judy Larsen book on Silicon Valley I used to know, and got to gotya. That plus pulling out of my Y membership, near by, Ross Road. But I am so close miles-wise and three hours away from Sacred Heart v. Oak Grove in football but maybe I should re-boot as Gunn v. St. Francis in Water Polo CCS championships in San Jose Indepencedce as it were. Nothing more here to further Curtis or me or the new weird America:

8. I am liking CM with “Swing mine, swing yours” and will advise. Although I also thought of that one for John Wesley Harding Wesley Stace who has not acknowledged the task. Likewise Vienna Teng, who studied at Stanford, albeit engineering not literature and for whom I made a flyer that same February, 2009 week, said she was psyched to be in the project, at One World or what-not, a nice place, but then left the book on the table. Freedy Johnston meanwhile reports being close to a song, based on “The Traveler” and Dao has finished and recorded “Two Rivers” and likewise J.P. Sesniak of Origami Ghosts has something he think fits the bill called “Volcano”. JP and them yielded five minutes at Beerland the next night, the actual 100 b-day, for me to splain all this and read a spec from “The Chink” of all things. Oh, yeah, Matt Nathanson refused the book, but wrote “WALLACE STEGNER” in Sharpie on his left hand, and also presumably did not hear or ignored my offer to fill that 20 minutes between Rachel and Curt and do his own reading of “Chickens” or something original and origamil about his own creative journey on this here spinning green-blue rock. Earthwise, if you will. “Mission bells or sparks on tongue and all that”


About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player; he also sang in local choir, and fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32
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