Friday, March 8, 2013

New Folsom Prison Collaboration Album


New Folsom Prison Blues is an album in collaboration between inmates at New Folsom Prison (CSP Sacramento) and songwriter Zoe Boekbinder. The album consists of songs written by inmates and poems and raps by inmates that Boekbinder has borrowed and, for them, invented melodies. The performers on the album will be a broad cast of musicians and songwriters, including Boekbinder, but excluding the inmates (due to prison regulations). The objective is to bring the stories out into the community even if the people they belong to must remain imprisoned. The profits from the album will be donated, in part, to the arts program at New Folsom. Any remaining funds will be put towards starting arts programs in other prisons and in underprivileged communities. Programs run by paroled inmates will be prioritized for funding through this program. This project will also lay a foundation for more collaborations like it in the future. This project is possible with the support of the William James Association.


In May 2010, Zoe Boekbinder paid her first visit to New Folsom Prison, a maximum security facility outside of Sacramento, CA. She has been volunteering there since. She plays concerts and teaches workshops in songwriting. The prison holds approximately 3, 000 male inmates. The arts program there is unique among California prisons, and is partly left over from a state program, which lost funding in 2010, called Arts-in-Corrections. What is left of the program is kept running by inmates, with the help of an inspiring member of prison staff, Jim Carlson. Carlson used to be the artist facilitator in the days of Arts-in-Corrections but now holds the title of recreational therapist. On top of his duties for the prison he also raises support in the community to keep the prison stocked with art supplies and musical instruments. Carlson has attempted to retire several times, after almost three decades in prisons and prison administration, but has yet to succeed. He knows that when he leaves, it is unlikely that much of what he and the inmates have built will survive. At present there are limited funds and not enough to hire teachers to come in but many of the inmates run classes and teach drawing, poetry, and guitar. There are also concerts by inmate assembled bands. Carlson is constantly fighting for the inmates’ freedom to facilitate these classes and events.
When Arts-in-Corrections was still alive, there were studies conducted that show its effectiveness in lowering recidivism rates for inmates involved. It also lowers the incidence of violence within the prison. In fact, New Folsom’s general population yard (or C yard), is known as a “soft” yard among those incarcerated there and elsewhere. It has a reputation for having less gang activity than any other maximum security prison.
Art programs are not only for the quality of life of the inmates involved, but also for the safety of those who encounter these inmates once they are released. There is little rehabilitation taking place in modern prisons and the arts is proven to be an effective and low cost solution.

“I’m feeling like I’m getting something up off of my chest.” said Alex (Shell Dog) when asked what he thought about Zoe using his rap for a song.
“It tickles the shit out of me,” Ken says when asked what he thinks of Zoe’s version of his song. “The biggest compliment one songwriter can pay to another is to use their material.”

Monday, June 25, 2012

"Her songs were great but she is awkward and she smells funny..."

In the months leading up to my high school graduation, my mother and I fought a lot. This was uncharacteristic for us. I think fighting was a preparation for goodbye. As if it would be easier if we were no longer enjoying each other's company. Maybe if I wasn't ending my tour in Italy, I'd be more fond of being here. As it is, we are not getting along, Italy and I. We bicker constantly. Getting around by train (which is how I've been getting around for the past two months) here, is very difficult. The trains are slow, infrequent, and often delayed or cancelled. 

The day I arrived, I was recovering from a stomach flu. I was supposed to be met at the station. I waited with my bags and my stomach flu in the afternoon heat, on the hottest day of this summer (as of yet). As it turns out, I wasn't standing in the right place. Roberta was also waiting but we did not find each other. Two hours later, after lugging my stuff and my stomach flu onto two metro trains, up and down many stairwells, into one pizza place, and half a mile down to the road to her door, Roberta was still waiting for me at the station thinking my train was late (she is familiar with Italian trains). But that one was on time. The show at her house was lovely but I found out that night that my CDs had not arrived in the mail from the UK. I ran out in Spain. 

This guy Tom Ayrton, who canceled my UK shows (very last minute so I had a giant hole in my tour), was supposed to forward the box of CDs I had already sent him on to Spain. He got the address wrong so it was sent back. He got the address wrong because I dictated it to him over the phone because, for some reason, he can't get internet access. I didn't know the UK was a technological wasteland. After this first failure and many missed CD sales and sad new fans, I begged Tom to please borrow an iphone or visit the library so he could look at the address I would give him next. He didn't do this. He also did not give me a tracking number for the package, which leads me to suspect its all a farce and he never sent the box to begin with. When I called him on Thursday to find out if he had found anything out about its whereabouts (which he said he would do and then call me), I got no answer. I left him a voicemail, during which I became increasingly angry and decreasingly coherent. I started with telling him how hard it is to make a living doing what I do, as it is, and that he was making it much harder for me. I told him he is "the enemy". I told him that my four-year-old sister knows how to access the internet. I said some other things that I'm not particularly proud of but made me feel strangely relieved. By the end my voice was shaking and I wasn't sure if I would scream, or laugh, or cry. I haven't been that angry in a long time. 

I played a lovely show in Genova. A little girl told me, in Italian, that I was beautiful. I saw Roman ruins. I should have kissed the sound person. 

The show was in a square surrounded by buildings with giant bird cages on top.

Coffee and red wine. Perfect.

Silvia Dainese opened. The young ones were our most eager fans.

Inside a biodome. That bird is real.

Outside the biodome with Silvia.

Oh, you know, just a pirate ship.

The next morning I board the train to Mondovi where I am playing two shows in one night. The train employees are on strike so I spend a lot of time on train platforms in the sun listening to announcements in Italian that I wish I could understand. I'm all about strikes and workers rights and union power... and I try to remind myself of this as its becoming quite clear I will miss one or both of my shows.

I thought those officers looked like they could be in a Lady Gaga video with their white leather utility belts.

I don't like the book I'm reading so I spend much of this time, six hours, playing solitaire on my phone. I get really angry with the game, convinced it is conspiring against me. I keep exclaiming (in my head) "REALLY? The trains are on strike. Its a million degrees out. I am missing my show, and THIS is the card you give me?!" And I'm actually angry… until I realize how ridiculous I'm being and laugh to myself (in my head). This happens many times through out the day. I manage to borrow several cell phones to call my Mondovi receivers to let them know about the delays.

When I arrive in Mondovi I am picked up at the station and transported to a farm that is basically heaven, with beer. I picked some fresh basil from the garden and made some pesto that got the Italian seal of approval from Jolanda's mother. I drink too much beer and not enough water and my voice is stuck in my throat but I think the show goes ok. Jolanda also plays and is wonderful. I love her through and through. 

The next day I take the train to Cervia. Seven hours on slow, frequent stopping, Italian trains and I discover that there was a miscommunication between the booker and the venue and I am too late to play… or get paid. Cool. I want to cry. I want to role around on the ground and kick my legs in the air and pound my fists on the pavement, but instead I go swimming. Momentarily, Italy and I get along famously. In fact, I can't wipe the smile form my face as I float in the salty waves. I don't think I'll be sad to leave though. One day I will come back with a car and I won't spend my entire visit in train stations being angry with games on my phone. I have seen very little of this country, aside from the rapidly disappearing landscape from the train window.

I get on the train back towards Milan… back the way I came. This is unfortunate because I am heading back again today to catch my flight out of Bologna. I feel a bit like a pin ball… only I'm just bouncing around and not hitting anything that earns any points… I'm just dizzy and exhausted.

Last night I played my last show of the tour. It was quite lovely. I shared the bill with a sort of jazz funk band and sang three songs with them after my set, "Stormy Weather", "Me, Myself, and I", and once I've had a few glasses of wine we finished with "Summertime". It was a little like reliving the Billie Holiday tribute I played in San Francisco a few months ago… only funkier. More saxophone, less trumpet. More keyboard, less piano. More tennis, less saddle shoe. 

I love picturing everyone who was at the show squatting here to go to the bathroom,  I don't know why.

I stayed with Martina, the booker, and his parents. This was breakfast. Yum.

I'll be home in two days. This is very strange. My friend David asked me if I was homesick. I am in a way, but not in the usual way of craving familiarity. After two months, foreign has become familiar. More than homesick I'm excited about what awaits me. I'm also scared. I am afraid that after two months of spending so much time alone, I've forgotten how to be social. (My music is on shuffle and as I am writing this "Effigy" is playing and Andrew Bird is singing "…when one has spent too much time alone…")

There was a time when I would regard talking to myself as a sign of needing company. Nowadays I have long involved conversations with myself in my head and when I end up socializing I just keep thinking 'When will I get to continue that conversation I was having earlier before all these people showed up??' I'm not sure if this should be alarming. It doesn't matter how friendly or interesting or interested people are… I just can't escape this thought, 'Why won't you stop talking?' Its not because I'm not interested in what they are saying. I'm desperately interested, but words make me anxious… or at least the spoken kind, when they are directed at me and I'm expected to elicit a response. Similar to the fear I have, when I'm on the edge of a tall building or bridge, that I might lose control of my body and throw myself off the side to my death or disfigurement, I am afraid I might respond to a perfectly normal question with some mangled cry or maybe I won't be able to form sounds at all and I'll just stand there with my jaw hanging limp while my inquisitor grows increasingly uncomfortable. Maybe this is why I've kissed precisely zero people on this tour, or maybe its because I decided against deodorant and I'm not a huge fan of showering. Likely a combination of the two. "Her songs were great but she is awkward and smells funny…"

Sometimes Italy looks a lot like home... but not usually.

I used up all my travel days on my rail pass. Just the right number. Time to go home... or start hitch hiking.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dear France...

... you are everything I've always wanted you to be. Seriously. 

I've always thought I would live in the South of France, but until now I had never actually been to France. I liked Paris a lot but not for living in. Toulouse, though, is winning my heart. Its so friendly and warm and beautiful here. It might be the prettiest city I've ever seen... well St Petersburg is crazy beautiful but in a different and more impressive way. Toulouse is modestly beautiful. The old architecture, the churches, the Garonne River running through the middle, the parks... its just beautiful without really trying too hard. St Petersburg is covered in gold shimmer and sequins ... which I also enjoy a good deal.

I played a show at my friend jAms' house. It was super great. I am playing another house show tonight at The Persimmon House. Cyril, who runs the shows and a record label called "What A Mess Records", shot a video of me playing a song in the persimmon tree earlier this afternoon. Tomorrow I'm heading to Rennes tomorrow to play LadyFest! Weee! 

I'm feeling inspired to improve my French. I can struggle to have really simple conversation at the moment but its coming back to me quickly. I used to speak this language, you know? I think I might be buying myself some French language tapes for my summer/fall tour. 

Here is my friend jAms. We were having a snack in the park.

A church.

An exploded printer. We decided it must have been dropped from a second story window.

These are across from each other in Grand Rond park. That wolf stole one of her pups!

Jesus, its beautiful here. I went on a hike in the Pyrennees. 

My hike up the mountain to some natural hot springs.

The baths.

...and the way back down.

This one is for sale... I took down the number. Later I blew all the tufts off a dandelion and wished that I would live there sometime in the next five years.

I'm gonna live here... bit of a fixer upper.

This slug has a window.

The train station in the tiny town at the bottom of the mountain. This town has one bar and one little store. When I descended the mountain at 8 pm, the bar was closed. No wine for me.

Back in Toulouse. More churches.

Me with my crazy eye.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


So I woke up at 9:30 the morning I was to fly to Paris, only my flight left at 7. I decided to rent a car and drive there, from Lisbon… which is very very very far away. I was convinced against all odds that I would get there in time for my show… or maybe I'd be forgivably late. The GPS in the rental car told me I'd arrive at 9:00 the next morning, but I thought maybe if I drove really fast… Fucking anxiety dreams!!!

I am writing this from Gate 23 where I am about to board my flight. Its 6:20 am. I woke up at 3 am because my dear new friend Xana was snoring. From time to time I would reach over the space between our beds and touch her arm and she would stop, but it never did last long. On the elevator ride down to the lobby "Living On A Prayer" was playing and I couldn't really take that as a good sign, but then Men At Work accompanied me on my cab ride to the airport, so I figured things were looking up.

Portugal has been wonderful. As always. I love it here. Portuguese people are so friendly and helpful. When I arrived, I was greeted by Xana, my booking agent, who drove me directly (via two gas stations, her son's school, and a grocery store) to her small village in the North of Portugal, outside of Vila Real. Her family is welcoming and her 14 month old son has the sweetest face I've ever seen. Here are pictures of her village.

Afonso and Joao

For washing clothes, of course.

Just natural spring water, no big deal.

For storing grain.

This is right outside Xana's back door.

I played three and a half shows while here. I got to spend some time with two very entertaining ladies, Emmy Curl and Catia. Emmy was also playing the shows. She has a beautiful voice and impressive guitar chops. Catia was our tour manager of sorts. She wears combat boots, smokes like a chimney, drinks more coffee than water and is a total knock out. Seriously, what a babe. Here they are looking at an iphone ap that turned Emmy into a zombie.

On our last day together we went to see a mid-evil village at the top of a mountain outside of Portalegre. I was wondering around this castle and found a mysterious narrow stone staircase that led down into darkness, so of course I followed it. It led to this long cylindrical room that was filled halfway with water. The reverb was like nothing I'd ever heard. So I got out my iphone and started to sing. Here is what it sounded like.

And here is what the castle looks like:

Shortly thereafter Emmy came down and we sang an Italian opera together. There will be a video soon! It was magic. At the end of our show later that night, for my last song, I asked everyone to come very close and sit on the floor around me. It was kind of a bar setting with folks drinking and milling about (and it was 2:30 am) so it took some convincing, but they eventually obliged. I invited Emmy up and we sang the opera again without microphones. It was a sweet ending to the show.

The next day we woke in the afternoon and sauntered over to this venue/community center that just opened and is also someone's house. It was so lovely. We hung out there all day drinking sangria. I played some songs and then we ate dinner together. Our hosts let me know that the meat we were eating was from a pig that was raised on one of their parents' farms and his name was Jonas (the pig, not the parent). Some of the other dinner guests thought they could use this fact to make me feel guilty about eating it… but I'd much prefer to eat an animal that I know the name of than some factory farmed/tortured and nameless slab from the grocery store. Jonas tasted amazing.

This lovely place is called Ficar, which means "stay", so maybe I will.

Telmo cooking.

Jonas takes on many forms.                                                          

Dora and Xana Marie
Telmo with pom poms.

Hours later I played more songs around the fireplace. Dora and Telmo, our hosts, were so lovely and invited me back anytime. I think I might move in.

Now I'm in Paris... I will report on that later.

Here are some cool things:

Mid-evil village... squished stone face.

They know how to do sidewalks in Portugal.
Just for walking on.

From up in the sky they're just.... 
Modern art or ...?