My heart, it was a gun

Just a quick note of catch-up from the last couple of days before I pack for our trip to St. Louis early tomorrow morning. We’ve just returned home from the Wallace House, where it was our turn to cook dinner for the 30-plus Fellows, Wallace House staff and guests – and I must say that it went swimmingly. Chris’ partner in the endeavor, Charles Clover Middle East & Africa Editor for the Financial Times of London and big fan of Russian culture – expressed his desire to make it a Russian meal. To that end, he had oodles of vodka on hand and whipped up some truly delicious plov, a pilaf with rice, lamb, carrots, onions, raisins, dried apricots and a host of spices. Delicious stuff.

While Clover seemed content to serve vodka as both appetizer and dessert, Chris and I felt perhaps we needed to pad the meal out a tad. On the Russian front, we scared up some dark pumpernickel rye bread and a doled out plates of pickled herring and beets.

I made a nice winter spinach salad with dried cranberries, thinly sliced crescents of Granny Smith apples, candied pecans and goat cheese. Chris thought we should inject a little Scotland into the affair, so we spent the morning rolling up sausage rolls for an additional appetizer and I attempted my first sticky toffee pudding which, considering I was tripling the recipe, turned out pretty well.

I think everyone enjoyed themselves well enough, if the raucous toasts were any indication. (My favorite toast was, by far, Kim’s. She represented her nation with an authentic Australian toast: “To absent friends…Fuck ‘em all.” Just my speed, that one.) It did occur to me that with so much vodka being consumed, we could have served up just about anything – but I’m glad we took the high road. And I hope to never have to cater to that many people again. Quote of the evening goes to Clover – a very quiet, cerebral and generally composed man, for those who don’t know him. He wandered into the kitchen somewhere midway between plov and dessert and says to me, “Don’t let me do any more toasts. I’m completely hammered.”

All in all, a sublime evening. And speaking of sublime evenings, Tuesday night was even more so, thanks to a tremendous performance by Jeff Tweedy at the Michigan Theater. First of all, the venue – which I hadn’t been in yet – is a stunning place, all old-school fanciness with gold-painted detailing. And Tweedy took the stage and filled the place as though they were old friends, perfectly made for one another. I’ve seen him a bunch of times in various incarnations over the years – Uncle Tupelo, Wilco and now solo – and I’ve never walked away so impressed.

He sang a perfect balance of old and new tunes, spanning his entire music career, each song pared down with just a guitar and his voice. That voice, no longer as raw and raspy as it was a decade ago, now strong and earning every note. Beautiful stuff. He also seemed more confident and, hell, even endearing than in previous times, interplaying nicely with the audience. Even the most familiar songs were reinvented and he “dug deep” (his own words) to play some really rare numbers.

In fact, I had one of those odd moments that occur in life, when you know you’re in the right place at the right time and maybe the heavens are aligning or maybe there’s a god or maybe it’s all random – but whatever it is, it’s smashing. People were shouting out names of songs in a cacophony that made single titles unintelligible and I found myself wishing that he’d strum out a version of “Gun.”

It’s a song from Uncle Tupelo’s 1991 album, Still Feel Gone, and while it’s by no stretch their best tune, it’s the one that my friend T. played for me as we rode around Bloomington, Indiana, in her beat-up vintage car that year. Mid-winter, there’s no heat, we’re freezing our asses off but drunk enough to not give a damn and we drove around aimlessly, smoking cigarettes and playing “Gun” over and over and over again. Hitting rewind at the end of it, listening to the cassette tape protest its backward travels before the harsh guitar riff started us off again.

It’s the song that really got me to pay attention to Uncle Tupelo. And it's a song I've never heard played live. And it's the song, as I'm sure you've already guessed, that Jeff Tweedy launched into just as I was thinking to myself that there was no way in hell he'd pull out something that obscure. Sweet moments, those are. Much like the four - count 'em, four - encores the boy treated us to, saying, after the second, "You know, I just don't really feel like going anywhere." And for as long as he played, for as long as his doleful lyrics echoed throughout the theater, neither did I.