Pure Relaxation

Raindrops on water. Remember what that sounds like? Like fifth grade summer camp. Remember? Well, that’s what I was just diggin’ on the dock here at Rob & Claudine’s in Chelmsford, MA: pure relaxation.

I’ve been up here for less than 24 hours, and I’ve slept at least 18. This morning, I woke up at 8, read the Globe, then napped ’til noon. I woke up again, watched the Red Sox, then slept ’til 5:30. Then I showered and started the day in earnest.

I have reason enough, I think, to be tired. I ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon yesterday morning in 1:55:00 (not bad), then hustled as fast as the 2/3 would take me back to my apartment, grabbed my guitar, jumped in a cab, and caught the 1pm Amtrak to Providence. Seamus met me in Providence and drove us up I-95, guzzling Gatorade and catching up on our lives all the way. We got to Rob & Claudine’s around 6pm as the party — my party, that is, I was here to perform — was just starting to get rollin’.

Now bear in mind that Rob & Claudine’s backyard is a lake. The Lake. I’ve been coming here since I was in college. Back then, Smokey Junglefrog came stopped in to grab a home cooked dinner with Nana en route to various college shows. Nana — my bass player Paul’s grandmother — is the patron Saint of this place. I thought of her as I was performing last night. Way back when, SJF had a song called ‘Goat’ in which I sang, “And those stomach pains / We all know you’re full of shit.” And Nana asked, “Oh Paul, why does he have to use the dirty words?” So last night when I sang “Used to be I was a salamander / I’m your commander / I’m takin’ the shit down” I figured Nana’s lookin’ down goin’, ‘Oh Benjamin, why do you have to use the dirty words?”

In the mid-nineties, I recorded ‘Out of Your Head’ in nearby Walthham with Paul. I was in my early twenties, new to New York City, and most of my friends and band mates from Syracuse and Saratoga Springs were living in Sommerville in a house called Mad Mel. We spent a lot of time on the couch watching The Simpsons and smoking tons and tons of pot. I took the bus then (not the Acela Express), and often popped on of Luke’s Clonapin’s for the ride home. More often than not, I woke up back in Hell’s Kitchen wondering how I’d gotten home. Hence that record’s title, ‘Out of Your Head.’

Since then, I’ve spent many a weekend with Rob after playing some club in Boston — Liberty Cafe, TT’s, The Kendal — ice skating on the frozen lake, sitting on the dock talking, or diving off the pontoon boat and floating in the cool water. Of course, now it’s a speed boat, and we water ski or ride The Patriot. But, coming here always feels like something of a homecoming. The Pearreaults are family. And I’ve been coming here to this house for some fifteen years. So beautiful. So relaxing.

About last night: what a blast. I played about twenty songs, many of ’em accompanied by Tod ‘Fish’ Salmonson, drummer extraordinary. He played drums in Smokey, played on ‘Out of Your Head,’ and continues to be both a great friend, and an awesome accompanist. We rocked ‘Way,’ and ‘Used’ from ‘Out of Your Head’ — Fish makes a djembe sound like a full drum kit — and even dragged ‘Story’ out of the SJF catalogue. But my favorite moment may have been the string of thematically related covers — ‘Blue Eyes Cryin’ In The Rain,’ ‘So. Central Rain,’ and ‘Leaving On A Jet Plane’ — when the whole place turned still, listened up, and sang along.

So… now it’s 9:27 on Sunday night. Rob & Claudine have gone to bed. I’m watching Discovery and eating black raspberry frozen yogurt. I’m catching a 7:30 Acela out of South Station in the morning and heading straight into work. I feel restored, relaxed, and ready for the next chapter: five days of the MTV, The Smith Family show on Thursday, another of my living room performances on Friday, another race on Sunday, and another train ride back home to Hell’s Kitchen.

Through it all — the chaos, the traffic, the strangers, songs, and the waiting — I’ll remember one thing: the sound of raindrops on The Lake. And I’ll feel like a fifth grader again, only older, and maybe just a little wiser for the journey.

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