Friday, June 13, 2014

Carryin' On With Carlene Carter

I have been out every night for the past two weeks, so I am the unwinning combination of being behind on blogging and completely exhausted. However, I didn't want too much time to go by without mentioning what a fantastic time I had seeing Carlene Carter at the Cutting Room on Wednesday night. (See if she's coming to your town HERE.) The entire evening started out as a bit of a lark. I have become pals with former Go-Go's bassist Kathy Valentine in recent years, and I knew she and Carlene were close friends dating back the late '70s. So when I got tipped off that CC was booking a date in New York, I called Kathy to see if she would want to go with me, fully expecting her to say no since she's a mother of a school age daughter and lives in Austin. Well, never underestimate the wild streak of a rock star. Summer break is on, and Kathy "doesn't need her arm twisted" to go to New York, a city she loves but has never called home. I had already asked my literary agent friend Christopher to go to the show -- he fell in love with Carlene during "Little Love Letters," then circled back to the earlier albums and loved them too -- which was serendipitous seeing as I have been trying to hook him up with Kathy ever since she started sharing with me all of her ideas for books. Hours before the show, Kathy and I were talking about love and life on a bench in Madison Square Park when Christopher suddenly came flying by en route to meet us for dinner -- if his feet touched the ground, I didn't see them -- which was was our cue that we had been talking too long and were also nearly late. It was all of our first time at General Assembly, but after a quick table change -- too close to the LOUD happy hour crowd in the bar -- it turned out to be a splendid meal, rivaled only by the great company. Kathy pitched book ideas like a  pro -- this is no one-trick-memoir pony! -- and we also got to talk about the upcoming Go-Go's theatrical show, "Head Over Heels." It was nice to be able to share the excitement with Kathy since she can no longer celebrate with the band. (Kathy also had lunch with the lawyer behind the project earlier in the day and I know she appreciated how thrilled he is, too!)

After a bit of a delay in getting seated, we were finally in the Cutting Room. (Somebody from Yes or something was playing before CC, but we were all saying no, no, no.) Carlene finally took the stage around 9:40 and was in fine form, as much a storyteller without the guitar as with it. She played many of the songs off her acclaimed family tribute album, "Carter Girl" -- Christopher and I agree that mama June's "Tall Lover Man" is the album's standout, and it was performed exquisitely -- but also surprised us with "Easy From Now On," the song she explained she wrote for Emmylou Harris that got the then-19-year-old signed to Warner Brothers Records, and a couple unexpected album tracks. Although she is traveling with just one guitarist -- whose role as all-around helper earned him the nickname "Roadie With Benefits" -- Carlene has clearly been working on her guitar-playing, which gave the duo a strong, confident sound. Carlene's hubby, Joe, was capable if not a little smarmy as guest and backing vocalist, and Carlene seemed to love having him up there, which isn't surprising given she comes from a traveling musical family.

Afterward we got to hang out with the lady of the hour -- she's as fun and larger than life as you'd expect! -- and Kathy ran into some old music executives she once knew (did you know Tommy Mottola was this close to managing the Go-Go's, but a certain pipsqueak wouldn't agree to it?) and a lovely singer she knows from Austin named Suzanna Choffel (above). We all congratulated Carlene on a wonderful set, and I brought up Ronnie Spector's "Behind the Beehive" show, which is a combination of monologue, songs and old home movies, which seems like a natural for Carlene as she gets older. CC agreed, having already Incorporated more stories into the set, like the one about the time Kris Kristofferson's helicopter(!) landed in her parents' backyard, and how the sight of this hunky stranger left her 12-year-old self titillated and confused. ("I didn't know what was going on!") Kathy met a fan or two -- one told her that when he once met the Go-Go's backstage someplace, she was the "nice one," something she rightfully seemed to take pride in, because she IS the nice one. We eventually said our goodbyes and then as I walked Kathy back to her hotel room, we reflected on what a great night it had been -- she adored Christopher as much as I do, and he adored her as much as I do -- and I asked her what it felt like to watch a friend of more than three decades perform after having been to hell and back. I won't divulge what she said exactly, but I know she was proud of her old friend. Carlene's done some hard living, burned some bridges, and I'm sure she, like many people, has her share of regrets. (That stepsister Rosanne Cash was not in attendance was clearly a source of sadness.) But seeing her on stage looking strong, head held high, and ably carrying on the family tradition took me back to the words of the mutual friend who had brought us there that night. It can't be easy for Carlene to go on after the death of so many members of the Carter family, most notably little sister Rosie, in a freak carbon-monoxide accident in 2003. But you can't stop the world, so why let it stop you? Carry on, Carlene! Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters would be proud.

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