First things first. MY SECOND BOOK IS OUT! I am the proud mama of An Army of Lovers: Women’s Music of the ‘70s and ‘80s. A fan described the book well; she also pumped up my already-substantial musician’s ego: “I am really enjoying An Army of Lovers both as a great read and a must-have reference book. The inside stories from the artists, technicians, and producers; the anecdotes from the genre’s early beginnings; the evolution. It’s all there, well-documented, and indexed. Best 20 bucks I’ve spent in a long time. Thank you!” Thanks to Stella Shelton and to everyone else who has taken the time to respond about the book. If you want your own book, get it here or at any indie bookstore. It’s available at Amazon and <gasp> Walmart too but it’s good karma if you get it from my publisher or a bookstore.
Want to know more about the book? Check out this website that includes a video of me telling some of my favorite women’s music stories.
All right, now you know about the book and it’s time to talk about the nightmare or maybe just a weird dream. We released the book the same week as Women’s Week in Provincetown for a reason. Do book events in a town overrun with lesbians? Heck yeah, where do I sign up? I scheduled two book readings and one music performance. So that’s good. However, Provincetown isn’t my favorite place. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why it’s a popular destination, especially for the LGBTQ community. But it’s a tough place for entertainers. If you want to know more, read my chapter about it in my memoir, Drive All Night. The chapter starts out with “F*** you Provincetown, f*** you!” I was a tiny bit unhappy. I’d tried for several years in a row to make money in that town. Different clubs, different flyers, different songs, different times of year … it didn’t matter what I did. My profits were tinier than my self-esteem by the time I left. I thought it was better for entertainers with a larger following so I asked a very popular performer about it. This is someone who sells out almost every show. She responded that she hated the town too, that the only reason she plays there is because she has friends there.
With a town busting with lesbians, especially Women’s Week, what could be so bad, you wonder? Housing and food are expensive. Entertainers pay what you pay so our shows have to be well attended every night to make enough to pay the bills. Fortunately, I found a rooming house on the far east side that’s cheap. Shared bathrooms and a long walk to downtown was doable. There’s no heat in the rooms but hey, I’m Canadian. They have a refrigerator so I could store breakfast and lunch items. Then there’s the dreaded flyers advertising shows. Hot Wire readers once voted me “Most Shameless Self-Promoter” and they weren’t wrong. Blabbing about myself is something I can do. But after days of shoving flyers at women who already had flyer fatigue, I was done. Stick a fork in me done.
The cool part about this town is the “bustling with lesbians” part. In the nineties when I was there the streets were so crowded you could hardly drive a car down Commercial Street, the main drag. Meeting women from all over the US and Canada as I handed out flyers was sometimes fun. Almost every entertainer did it though and after awhile tourists probably felt like they were running a gauntlet between desperate entertainers.
So, after 15 years of being away, why did I venture back? I had this book and I knew that my readers were in Provincetown. Turns out they were so this story doesn’t have a sad ending. Let me get back to the start of this trip. I started in New Hampshire at the fabulous Highlands Inn. I’d had a sore throat earlier in the week but I was feeling better until my drive there when my nose started running like the faucet in every cheap apartment I’ve ever rented. I powered through the show, sounding like I was gargling gravel. Fortunately, I can read with a voice like that and I sold lots of books. The next day I headed to Massachusetts for two gigs in one day. When I booked them, I was feeling well so it seemed like a good idea. I rasped my way through an afternoon gig at a ukulele festival. Picture 30 people trying not to wince at every bad note I sung. Jokingly I introduced one song with “Here’s a song I probably can’t sing. Hope you enjoy it.” An audience member actually bought the album because he said that song was the best out of all the ones I’d done. Huh? The musician after me proudly announced that he didn’t do any songs written after 1935. (Why was that a selling point?) Time to make my exit. My show that night was at IMA, a venue and organization run by June Millington and Ann Hackler. I pushed through two sets of music, read from the book and again, sold a good number of books. Bless them. I don’t think I sold any CDs there and frankly, if I’d heard a musician sing notes unknown to humankind like I did, I wouldn’t have bought an album either.
The next day, after a hearty breakfast with my friend Erica Wheeler, I pointed my car toward Provincetown. It was a Monday and my first gig was on Wednesday. I looked forward to a couple of days off from performing.
After a good night’s rest but still with a voice that sounded like Tom Waits on a bad day, I hit the streets on Tuesday with my flyers. The almost empty streets. What the? As it turns out, the Women’s Week of today isn’t like its glorious past. A comic friend of mine told me that many visitors only come by cruise ship to stay for the day, spending hardly any money while they’re there. My obligatory tourist photo in front of the water. If you look closely at the horizon in this photo, you’ll see one of those ships.
A lot of the tourists are straight. I’ve got nothing against straight folks but not many of them are going to be interested in one of the many lesbian comics doing concerts in town. Or in my book.
I pushed on. Some of the jokes I’d used when I was last in town still worked. Approaching a group of lesbians I’d call out, “I’m looking for the lesbians.” Before they stopped laughing, I handed out flyers. Also working was the straight forward approach, “Are you a women’s music fan? I’ve written a book about it!” In response I heard wonderful stories about their first women’s music festival, the time they discovered Cris Williamson, and other heartwarming stories. A few tried to stump me, asking if my book included musicians Jade and Sarsaparilla, Casse Culver or the Fabulous Dyketones. Of course it did.
I washed my hands a lot but still felt like Typhoid Jamie. Maybe I should’ve worn a mask. Yeah, that would’ve encouraged women to come to my events.
Some friends from Florida bought me lunch one day. We had a great time getting caught up on our lives. I also hung out a lot with a buddy who was staying at the same inn. I laughed my ass off at Suzanne Westenhoefer’s show. So not all was crummy.
I did a concert at a local club that was everything a gig shouldn’t be including drunk audience members dancing back and forth inches from my face. When I announced I’d be doing a song that my cat co-wrote, a woman thought it’d be hilarious to stand right next to me and yell “meow” every measure or two. Women from Indiana who were there specifically to hear me probably couldn’t because of the noise level in the bar. One of them stood near the stage, looking like she was ready to deck the alcohol-fueled woman who kept running into her. There were pole dancers on after me. I didn’t feel compelled to stay. With a 100% chance of rain I thought I needed to hightail it out of there. I was carrying an expensive guitar, a not-so expensive ukulele, and facing a ½ hour walk back to housing. I ran back to the inn, the guitar on my back acting like a sail in the roaring wind. The next day I found out that there were gusts up 90 mph. No wonder I got blown into the bushes a couple of times. It sprinkled but thankfully, the sky didn’t open up until I was safely inside my little bedroom at the inn.
I continued handing out flyers the next couple of days, getting ready for my two book events at the end of the week. And searching for good coffee. For the love of all that is holy, why doesn’t this quaint little resort town have good java? The nearest Starbucks was miles down the Cape. And lest you chastise me for wanting chain coffee, at least I know what I’m getting there. I also like Pete’s Coffee, Bridgehead (a local chain in Ottawa where I live) and heck, I’ll even drink Timmy’s (Tim Horton’s) or Dunkin Donuts coffee if it’s got enough cream and sugar.
I’m whining again. Sorry.
Thursday night I did a gig at the library. Heavenly. Attentive and smiling, the audience was there for me. I sang one of my songs and a medley of classic women’s music. I tuned my guitar down a full step so I could hit the notes. Mostly I read from the book and told stories. Almost everyone in the crowd bought a book, bless their women’s-music-loving hearts. The only man in the audience looked familiar and when I asked who he was he grinned and said “Grant King.” Grant! He’s a musician I knew back in the day. Such a sweet guy. Wish we’d had more time to talk.
The next day I packed and headed to the Pilgrim Monument for my second book reading. A noon event, I planned to get the heck out of Dodge after it was done. I had no idea what to expect since I was sharing a panel with a local researcher and a local fiction writer and we were supposed to talk about research. I made a quick trip to the famous tower (the aforementioned monument) before we began and took the requisite tourist photo.
We three panelists sat at the front of the small room. Women started arriving. And arriving. And arriving. More chairs were found and set up. The organizer said it was the largest number she’d had for this series that she’d produced all week. Nothing like doing a presentation to a packed room of happy women. After we were done I sold every book I’d brought in with me. There was still a cluster of women, $20 bills in hand, with very sad faces until I told them I had more books. They followed me to the parking lot and I sold the rest out of my car, a fine ending to a very interesting week.
I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to Provincetown. Maybe if they get better coffee.