(On top of the world with Rene)
Cork, December 20th
Reflecting on Switzerland
Santa lives in the forest with his donkey. I can hear the braying through my jet lag on a foggy morning by Lake Brienz. A wooden badger reads in the library on the stage. Branches stretch from the floor to the ceiling. The names of friends I’ve known for decades hang on beautiful posters throughout the building. Yet, it is my first time here. I am living inside a dream . A good dream. Downstairs, in the workshop guitars are in various stages of metamorphose, from tree to instrument. Quiet and patient, awaiting future hands, who will break this silence with unwritten melodies. Upstairs a young boy plays with his mother. She carries his sibling in her womb. Everywhere there is wood, beautiful carvings, pieces of trees seasoning, limbs stretching out of the mountains, like shameless yawns, overlooking the sleepy lake. There is no wind. The ripple of light bouncing of the water reflecting on the kitchen wall. A mute puppet could find a song in their wooden heart here. I find one too.
Rene picks me up from the train station in a canoe. We paddle cross the perfectly still lake, surrounded by the alps. I am a stupor of jetlag and awe. My journey began with Clare and Saoirse seeing me off at 116th st subway stop in rockaway. The S shuttle train. The A train. The air train. Terminal 7 JFK airport. A flight to Dublin. Connecting flight to Zurich. A train ride from Zurich Flughafen to Zurich Hauptbahnhof. On to Lucern. Then Brienz, where I find myself wide awake inside a dream, singing songs on a canoe. Coming up on exhaustion and Alpine air.
Sometimes music is very hard. This is not one of those times. Rene Reusser is a guitar builder and force of nature. He and his wife Mirjam have been putting on shows in Brienz for over a decade. Mick Flannery mentioned me to them a year or so ago and I got a letter in the post, inviting me to come play sometime. I don’t get a lot of gig invites in the post, I’d never played in Switzerland. Yes, please.
I think it was the next day, one of the days Rene brought me for walk into the forest. He carried some firewood, a pot and a small axe. We walked though a storybook town. Past schools and violin makers. Bridges that rise with the flood water. I heard stories of musicians from around the world visitng Brienz. Lisa and Glen. Mick and Susan. A remarkalble story of Rene’s visit to the late American guitar maker and musician Dixie Michelle. We told stories as he made some Alpine herbal tea and popcorn over a small fire.
We got back to their house, their friends Oscar and Simone were visiting. Oscar is originally from Brazil and I asked him something about the differences. He said he liked how people in Switzerland really respected each other’s time. I asked REne if i could take his guitar to my quarters and I worked on a song that was coming to me through the day’s adventures and conversation. I leaned into my fairy godmothe’s motto of ‘Fuck it’, ignored my terror and played this brand new thing that very night and again the next night. Someone wrote to me after the second gig saying it was one of their highlights.
THe gig in Brienz was sold out and magic. They requested i do three short sets. I would normally be resistant to thsi but I trusted them, They were right.
On my way to Sunday gig Rene took me on a cable car above the clouds to a mountain peak. We took sleds part of the way down. I do not have time to describe this beauty right now but I will happily tell you all about it next time we meet.
Sunday nights I played in Kreativ Garasch, the Atelier of Rene’s former apprentice Elias. Elias is an incredible wood carver. On the stage was one of the most impressive wood carvings I have ever seen. Elias as a small boy. He sat at my feet whilst I sang. There were also carvings of a forlorn looking frog looking longingly up at a disinterested looking female frog. I began my set by dedicating ‘Be There If I Have To Swim’ to the sad frog. To misquote Smog, sometimes. a Froggy Gets Depressed.
This gig was also really special and I felt really inspired to be surrounded by such creative people. Thank you Mirjam, Rene, Elias and to everyone who made this tour happen.
I really hope to be back sometime.
Irish tour kicks off Friday, there are still a few tickets for Crosshaven, Ballydehob and Dublin. The rest are sold out. Thank you.