Robert Sarazin Blake in New London
Some weeks ago, my buddy Victor Chiburis of The Friendly Ghost
invited a bunch of us to a show at New London's Bean and Leaf
coffee shop, where the Ghost would be opening for singer-songwriter Robert Sarazin Blake.
He evinced enough enthusiasm for his headliner that I wrote the date on my calendar right away. I'd seen Victor and the Ghost's banjo man Joe Attwater perform before at Dickson's Tavern in New London, at some kind of Hootenanny - which I wrote about here
- and I'd heard some of his solo stuff, and been gifted his CD.
But I'd never heard the Ghost with three of its four voices. This time Kelsey Alexander sang with them. And played the bongos. And the tambourine. And the egg.
And though their song "Falling off the Earth
" had powerfully affected me the first time I heard it, this time it made me cry.
I wished I'd heard this song in my early twenties, when I probably needed it most. It would have saved me the writing of many hysterical emails and bleeding-out midnight letter writings.
I am glad though that it was written for someone; that this sort of loyalty-with-detachment, this oath-swearing of continuing friendship and simultaneous withdrawal, can be and was articulated. So many years spent puzzling over this phenomenon of sudden silences from the other side of it...
The Bean and Leaf setting was informal, with coffee grinders blazing up in the distance, and a dispersed, coffee-drinking, casual audience. I sat right up in front with Patty and Moosher, and had, in my opinion, the least distractible position for enjoying the music.
The Friendly Ghost explained that their headliner was stuck on the 95 South, going 10 miles an hour in a jam. They'd check their messages throughout their set and keep their audience updated. Unfortunately, by the time Sarazin Blake arrived, the Bean and Leaf was closing.
Did I say unfortunately?
I TAKE THAT BACK!
Victor and Kelsey, in the greatest roommate coup since Burke and Hare (only not involving cadavers in ANY WAY) (Kelsey's a vegetarian) (actually, they're probably more like the boys of Baker Street) (but they're BOTH Sherlock!), recently moved into the prettiest second floor apartment in New London. It's just a few blocks from the Bean and Leaf. They filled the rooms with instruments and cushy places to sit, and then lit it just for company.
From the red rugs on the floor to the soft white fairy lights, if any home is the place for a house show, this is that home.
And that's where we headed when the Bean and Leaf closed its doors. About half of the audience went on their way, but the rest of us crowded into whatever vehicle we could purloin and joined the parade.
"Anyone want to ride with me?" Sarazin Blake asked, looking a bit road-weary and wry.
I grabbed my actor pal Eric, who'd been standing on the sidewalk, explaining to me the virtues of a "Grown-Up Yoohoo," which is basically chocolate milk with vodka, something of a New London specialty.
"Let's go with The Headliner!" I said.
"Just as long as you never call me that again," said The Headliner, who was adorable in an early Cat Stevens, dark-eyed, dark-bearded, crinkly-eyed, looks-at-you-and-you-feel-REALLY-LOOKED-A
T way. (Not that Cat Stevens ever looked at me. Only, I like to imagine it sometimes.)
"What's your name again?"
We shook on it, and piled in the car with the guitars, then Eric navigated him to that Wonderful Place on B--- Street, where the more beers you remove from the fridge, the more beers appear in the fridge.
That's just one of the magic things about Victor and Kelsey's house. I find it fascinating - and I hardly ever drink the stuff myself!
Within a few minutes, chairs and couches and lounges had been arranged in a pleasing manner, and we launched into a mini-salon as a few of the crowd went out to pick up pizzas. Michael Hinton sang a folk song he'd written in England. I recited "Little Sally and the Bull Fiddle God
" ("Is that Shel Silverstein?" "Ha! Yes, it's Shel Silverstein." "No, is it?" "No!" "Who is it?" "She
wrote it!"), which Sarazin Blake immediately followed with a cowboy-drawled rendition of "The Cremation of Sam McGee
(I think I first heard that poem on a road trip with Gene Wolfe. Those first lines..."There are strange things done in the midnight sun / By the men who moil for gold...
" Did some friends and I once have a whole conversation about the word "moil"? Or was that in a book I read? I have a memory specifically about "moil" but I don't know where it belongs.)
When the pizza arrived.
When we were all settled.
When the moment was right.
...Then Robert Sarazin Blake began to play.
"Thanks for coming out," he told us. "We didn't need the rest of the audience anyway."
"Those would be our parents," Kelsey said.
"Who might have paid for the pizza," quipped Victor.
Sarazin Blake is one of those conversational baritones who can make his guitar burr and buzz like a beehive transmogrified to look like a Gibson.
(I don't know actually if his guitar was a Gibson. I don't know the names of guitars. I only know that it was heavy. It was an instrument of substance. I know. I carried it up the stairs.)
In the best lyrical tradition of Bob Dylan and Greg Brown, he can take a personal experience and parse it into such exquisite specificity that it becomes entirely universal.
I don't know how that is; anybody can write a vague lyric and call it a love song. But it is the details, the observation and focus and reflection, the athanor of self-analysis, the compulsion to process a life through song, and then be further compelled to hit the road and show it off to the world - the joy of that - that makes a song of a singular event become the listener's event as well.
And you find yourself nodding along and thinking, "Yeah. Yeah, I remember that. That happened to me too. Just the color of the sneakers changed..."
Or - as in the case of The Friendly Ghost's "Falling Off the Earth," or Sarazin Blake's incredibly sexy song, "Tattoos
," you can suddenly re-envision a familiar scene or memory, but from the other person's point of view. It's incredibly useful
. And moving.
I only had a fiver in my wallet. I threw it into his guitar case at the end of the night, and apologized for not being able to buy his CD.
"Well, take one anyway," he said. "Do you want A Crowd of Drunken Lovers?
" (He'd played several songs from this album, in our honor, including "Tattoos.") "Or do you want the new one?"
"Which one do you think I should have?" I asked. "Whatever you give me, I'll blog about it."
He gave me the new one, the self-titled Robt Sarazin Blake.
I haven't had the chance to listen to it yet, but I can already vouch for "ok ok ok
I was about to ask Victor if I could borrow "Drunken Lovers," and Sarazin Blake must have caught the look on my face, because he laughed and said, "Buy the mp3 online. Don't talk about burning CDs in the kitchen. You want to talk about burning CDs, go into the other room!"
"I was just going to ask about borrowing it!"
"Maybe a listening party?" he suggested.
"I do those! I did that with Hadestown
! Do you know Hadestown
"Anais is one of my best friends," he said gently. "I got to play Hades when she toured in Seattle."
"YOU GOT TO PLAY HADES???"
"I wore a red shirt. Look at your CD."
I did. Anaïs Mitchell's one of the singers.
"Jeez," I said, totally dreamy-eyed. "Is Greg Brown one of your best friends too?"
"No," he said. "Greg Brown's my hero."
And that, friends, was my night last night.