High Fives 2021 No. 1 Rod Picott


Photo by Allan Mckay

It’s that time of year again; time for the ninth edition of the Music Riot High Fives. It’s been another difficult year for everyone involved in making music but that hasn’t stopped the flow of creative juices. Apart from the positive takeaways Rod describes below, he also released a great album in September of this year and had plans to tour the UK until travel restrictions brought it to a grinding halt. Let’s hope it happens in 2022. In the meantime, here’s Rod’s thoughtful look back at some of the positives to come from 2021.

The Dad Reports

 With the passing of my mother in April of 2020 I started writing out my nightly conversations with my father. He is eighty-one and an authentic northern New England character. I write only his part of the conversation and write it out phonetically so that readers can hear his voice as they read. Here is one of The Dad Reports:

The Dad Report:

“So, it was pretty cold and cloudy but they said it was gonna warm up so I waited for my walk. Bandit stays behind me till I get ‘bout halfway ‘round the bird path then Christ he takes off and when he sees the house he’s runnin’ like crazy and he beats me back and he’s waitin’ at the doah. So I says, Jesus I gotta vacuum this place. So I vacuumed the whole house, top to bottom. Got all that damn cat hair up of the sofa. Guess what? The cat started sleeping with me. I get up the othah day and I says “what the hell is that?” It was the cat. Sleeping right up against me. Been doing it every night since. I don’t care long as it don’t do that pawing. It’s funny. I go up, she follows me up. I go down she follows me down. Bandit’s not scratching like he was so I guess that spray worked. I had to do a load of whites and a load of dahks. So I loaded up the dahks first. Got them in the dryer then I says I’m gonna take a ride to Williamsport then I come out on sixteen down by four corners, went back through Milo. I says I’m gonna stop and get a sausage egg and cheese on a English muffin. It was pretty good and the best thing was there was only ‘bout foah people in Tradewinds and I was the only one at Dunkin’ Donuts. Then I went home and switched the laundry and haint done nothin’ since really, but I was glad to get the cat hair offah the couch. No games tonight. Green Bay won last night. I love you. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. You have a good night…”

The Strand Theatre This is a beautifully restored theatre in Lakewood NJ. I’ve played there many times over the years but this year was particularly special. Aside from online shows, I hadn’t played a show in eighteen months. I usually play between one and two hundred shows each year, so these last eighteen months have upended a career I’ve scratched and clawed for. Playing for an audience is the most alive I feel as I walk through my time on this rock. The Strand show was my re-entry after a very long time. The audience was magic. I nervously worked through the first song, heard that applause, threw the lyric sheet on the floor and I was gone – transported to that magical place that can exist between a performer and audience when the air is right. There is nothing like it that I’ve experienced. I’ll always remember this show. It was pure magic for nearly two hours. We were all one.

Listeners And so, what to do with my time as Covid closed the world down? All of my shows were gutted in one single day. Weeks of planning dissipated into thin air. After wringing my hands for a few weeks, I knew I needed to do something, but what that thing would be was outside my vision. Then an epiphany. What would I like to have from my own favorite artists? The answer came quick. I would love for Patty Griffin, Steve Earle, Bruce Springsteen or Jason Isbell to sit down and record a handful of songs just for me. I’d like them to talk to me as they recorded, to feel that profound connection and feel it in my bones – to know that this was my album. What an amazing thing that would be? So that’s what I did. I had no idea how on point I was. I anticipated maybe twenty or thirty folks to be interested enough. It was an expensive price tag because each recording had to be performed one at a time, mastered, printed onto a CD then mailed out – all by my own hand. By the end of the first week, I had more orders than I had time. It was a glorious experience. Most of the folks I recorded for, I at least knew a bit, so it was incredibly fun as well as very hard work. It was a project that kept my head above water and simultaneously kept that personal connection to my listeners. There were glitches and great performances. One day my eighty-year-old father started his chainsaw right outside the window. It all went onto the recording. If I screwed up a song, I simply played it again. Each person received whatever happened while I was recording – all on one long track. My listeners saved me.

My Father We were not particularly close when I was a child. I was a bit of a misfit, uninterested in his world of hunting and fishing, football and dirty jokes. I was a reader, drawn to the arts, incredibly shy and uncomfortable in my own skin. He was a man’s man; easy with cars, tools and the things of the masculine world. My world was my inner world. My father’s world was in his hands and the things he did. I lived inside my head. My mother was a notoriously bad gift giver. She gave me a giant plywood rabbit as a wedding gift and few years ago a stack of used heavy metal guitar magazines for Christmas. It made no difference to me and in fact I found it comical. It was astounding how far from the bullseye she could land with a gift. She’d give a diabetic a cake. When she passed on there was no one at the ready to help my father through the maze of legal issues that inevitably come with death and so I stepped in. I drove twenty-four hours straight to get to him in rural Maine. Then I methodically rounded up the issues to resolve and went through them one by one. I don’t wish this task on anyone. At one point I realized my father needed me. It wasn’t just a matter of helping him. He was utterly lost without my mother and needed me to take care of these things and the universe shifted. My mother’s final gift to me – was my father. Now, I split my time between flashy Nashville Tennessee and dire Brownville Maine. We walk every day. We watch football. He repeats the weather report the weatherman just reported two minutes earlier and I listen. Everyone needs someone to listen.

The Vaccine We all waited…and waited. I am in the firm grasp of middle age but it took time for my date of birth to be eligible. The roll out of the vaccine was not perfect, but in hindsight it was an impressive effort. I know this issue is rife with controversy. Covid continues its cruel march forward after we all hoped the vaccine would take it out at the knees and we would return to normal. It was not to be – as my own cancelled U.K. tour informed me. It was simply too soon and there were too many variables. The protocols seemed to change daily. I will, however, never forget the feeling of getting that first injection. Hope. It was hope that rang through my head. With the second dose an enormous relief and sense of gratitude overwhelmed me for all the people it took to make it happen. From the doctors and scientists to the volunteers who stuck arms all day long, day after day, to the old man directing traffic at the Nashville site, it was pure gratitude. We’re not there yet. But there is hope. Somewhere out there someone is working sixteen hours a day for that silver bullet. And we hope.

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