I’ve always loved Over The Rhine’s music and their letters. This latest one fits them to a T. Their messages always paint such vivid photos and constantly remind me about what’s so right about their music and way that they value small things. It’s a longer read but one I think you’ll enjoy very, very much.
Dear extended musical family,
Well, after 20-some-odd years in the music business,
touring in the USA and abroad,
performing on radio stations,
the occasional tv show,
on moving trains,
on a ship at sea,
headlining our own Over the Rhine shows,
supporting more well-known artists on the road,
being on and off record labels,
running our own label along the way at various points,
working with publishers and distributors large or small
while all the while remaining fiercely independent of spirit—
One begins to feel as if one has seen it all.
But if I know only one thing for sure this morning here on Nowhere Farm:
We have not seen it all. (read more…)
Take our Friday evening show at Canal Street Tavern a few weeks ago.
Into this storied listening room in Dayton (if you had a good arm you
could throw a baseball into the nearby minor league ball park) we have
brought our suitcases full of songs old and new over the course of much
of our career, to offer them in a space that feels like our living room
away from home.
It’s not a big place, so people arrive early before doors open and take
their place on the sidewalk with their books to read, or a box of
chocolate chip cookies from a favorite recipe to share, and the line
grows down the block, and it feels a bit like vanishing America, people
standing around on a sidewalk trading war stories, laughing, cells
vibrating a bit in the context of a group of human beings leaning
together in the same direction, flesh and blood.
But then shortly after the doors opened two ducks arrived and got in
line. A male and a female mallard…
Allow me to repeat that: TWO DUCKS.
I didn’t see any of this and I didn’t dream any of it – it was reported
to me by multiple witnesses. The female duck seemed to be in charge
(?!) and when doors opened she walked up the steps to enter the venue
beckoning to the somewhat skeptical male to follow. It was as if she
wanted to buy a ticket. She may as well have been smoking a cigarette.
A duck walks into a bar…
Apparently, several concerned concert-goers ran to their cars to
retrieve food for the temporarily earthbound water fowl in case they
were hungry. They were ambivalent, but seemed intent on seeing the
show. When no one provided them with paper tickets, they milled around
for awhile, and eventually left.
I heard multiple accounts of this story because much earlier that day
in the state of New York, our friend Keith had purchased us a
celebratory bottle of wine in anticipation of the unfolding evening. He
had asked the wine shop owner to recommend something good and he had.
The wine, a big California blend, 2007 vintage, of 72% Zinfandel, 18%
Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Franc is called Paraduxx.
The label looks like a beautiful old postage stamp. It’s printed on
uncoated paper and has a painting of two ducks on it: hooded mergansers
to be exact. When Keith handed us the bottle after the show, the
previous story came out (as if being uncorked) from several bystanders,
and was confirmed by the ticket takers and merch sales people in the
entrance of the venue.
Apparently everyone knew about it except me.
If you can help us with any of the symbolism here, please write to us
(Karin requests photographs, as well, please.)
As a writer, I know there’s something here. But I do not know what. I
would have to write to find out.
We have not seen everything.
I’ve realized often that when it comes to wine, or coffee, or the
occasional enjoyment of a fine cigar (the tobacco thereof grown in the
light of some island sun) I’m drawn to blends. I’d like to think that
the music of Over the Rhine is a blend, different strains of American
music (gospel, country & western, rock & roll, old hymns, scratchy jazz
78’s) being poured together like wine through the ache of a heart to
bleed something beautiful into the veins of the world.
I won’t lie to you. There are certainly moments on the road when
exhaustion sets in.
(We’ve noticed that hotel rooms are increasingly becoming toxic
environments – it seems to be getting worse – rooms designed without
the possibility of opening a window – chemical cleaners – chemicals
used to prevent bedbug breakouts – new carpets off-gassing into a
closed system – central air conditioning units that become moldy – it
all takes a toll on a respiratory system.)
(Flying on an airplane has hit an all-time low in the enjoyment and
comfort department. It used to be kind of special to get on an
airplane. The good news is it has gotten so laughably uncomfortable to
travel by air, that it has to begin improving in the very near future.
I think we’ve hit bottom.)
And there is a lot of uncertainty that goes along with trying to offer
the world something beautiful for a living. I cannot imagine what
picking up a check every two weeks would feel like. In the last 20
years, it has been all over the map. Truly an adventure, but thank God
I married a woman with a high tolerance for risk. We live life without
a safety net. We discover we are survivors.
But I do have the following spiritual exercise handed to me often.
Whenever I begin to feel that my life is particularly difficult, I can
open the mail.
I can read about the father holding the hand of his son who just passed
away from cancer at 3:30am, thanking us for signing that CD that they
listened to, for the exchange of a few notes. Miraculously, it meant
something, provided some small sacrament of comfort.
I can read about the 19-year-old girl that stumbled into a tent on a
pig farm with friends to discover us playing on a stage after midnight.
How (she continues) she felt something she could not name beckoning
her, 19-years-old, pregnant, scared, overwhelmed. How she picked up a
CD (Good Dog Bad Dog) and went home and pointed the speakers at her
growing stomach, over weeks and months and especially played the song
The Seahorse to the unseen baby that she gave up for adoption, and how
that song still connects her to that child. Now she’s in her thirties,
and after a journey of counseling and healing, she’s married and
expecting again, and this time she’s going to keep the baby, and the
music is still playing.
And I can hear a voice saying:
You’ve never lost a child
You’ve never been asked to leave loved ones behind and go to Iraq or
Afghanistan armed to the teeth
You’ve never faced a life-threatening illness
You’ve never missed a meal
You’ve never slept in the rain
My life is not that hard.
(My sister reminded me, laughing, that actually we did miss a few meals
as kids and did sleep in the rain, but as far as the rain, I think it
was just the one time… I suspect we’ll get into all that someday in our
I picked up Karin yesterday evening at the airport. She had been doing
more recording at The Garfield House in South Pasadena (with friend and
brother Joe Henry). We stopped at a favorite café on the way to the
farm and traded stories and laughed and the wine flowed, and we had so
much to talk about (and laugh about) just being apart a few days that I
was wondering if people thought that we were caught up in some new
romance. I hope we didn’t turn too many heads.
Life continues to be a mixture of joy and sorrow and laughter and pain
and small victories that offer cause for celebration.
Thank God for music.
More to come.
Peace like a river, love like an ocean,
Linford and Karin of Over the Rhine
ps Please share the above freely. Orphaned believers, skeptical
dreamers, you’re welcome. You can stay right here. You don’t have to go.