Gillian Welch on the healing power of road trips: ‘In every street sign there is poetry’

The Americana star and musical partner David Rawlings are embarking on a 7,000km-plus drive across Australia, taking in two laps of the east coast

Gillian Welch wants to see some kangaroos. She didnt see any the only other time she was in Australia so the country music star wants to rectify that when she returns for the first time in 12 long years. And since the tour is as much road trip as musical event band and crew are going to drive between gigs, starting in Perth and taking in two laps of the east coast it seems designed for the purpose.

Last time we saw some wombats I think thats what they were going across the road, a whole mess of em. But we didnt see kangaroos so I want to see some this time, says Welch, who is well aware that there might not be much else to look at on parts of the 7,000km-plus trip.

The tour has been designed by us, she says, meaning herself and musical partner Dave Rawlings. Weve wanted to do this for a long time. Last time we drove from Brisbane to Melbourne and that was the end of the tour. We didnt get to turn the corner and continue the tour.

Everyone is super excited and they know what were in for. People say to me, Its different to the US, theres nothing in between. But my reaction to that is, Great. People dont tour the way we do.

There is no doubt the pair are a bit different. Apart from the driving thing (have they even looked at the map, I wonder?), they are splitting the focus of the tour so Welch takes centre stage with her material from Perth to Brisbane before they morph into the Dave Rawlings Machine from Brisbane back to Melbourne.

Welchs sublime blend of country, blues and folk traditions has led to sold-out shows in Australia. Songs such as Caleb Meyer, April the 14th and I Dream a Highway have established a special niche in the Americana catalogue. With Welch spinning tales of Okies and outlaws, backed by Rawlings harmonies and dipping and soaring guitar licks, they make for a spellbinding stage spectacle.

We really enjoy playing live and like being on the road, Welch says. It feels like what Im supposed to be doing. Theres something natural about it. Its such a sense of how you get better by playing a chunk of shows.

We hope the shows are transportive, transfixing. Were trying to give people a unique experience. I hold playing live in special regard. And its different because of the people who show up.

Welch has not released new material under her name since 2011 but the Machine recently released an excellent second album, Nashville Obsolete, showcasing the pairs rockier impulses and Rawlings extraordinary guitar playing.

With the tour, we hope people will get both bands, Welch says. When we get to Brisbane, were going to turn around and reverse direction. Two different ensembles, two different catalogues.

Its been really important doing both and trying to broaden what we do because it can get focused right down to a razors edge. We have the same record collections but he cant do what I can do, and I cant do what he does. We get to cover different territory and the music that we love. With the Machine we push deeper into that Dylanesque, ramshackle rock. And I can push deeper into the Stanley brothers, Townes Van Zandt kind of stuff.

Welch seems to have inherited the natural storytelling gift of those great names. She was born in New York but adopted as a baby before growing up in California where her parents worked as TV writers. Many people have wondered how this woman from the coasts can evoke the spirit of the US south so vividly. But, speaking to her by phone as she and Rawlings drive to a show in Houston, its obvious how she brings the sights and sounds of the American landscape to life, from the beauty of Appalachia to the backyard wreckage of abandoned cars.

Being on the road is my way to check in with the state of the union, she says. Its a first-hand way to see whats going on out here, to get the vibe.

I always say to people, if theyre feeling depressed go take a road trip and see whats actually happening. Ive never been bored in a car. In every street sign there is poetry and history and all these beautiful images. You see so much crazy stuff. The other day I saw an old car buried in beer cans. Someone had filled big 60-gallon bags with the cans and left them all on top of the car. But over time the bags had popped open and covered the car in cans.

The US is a real car culture which the country is totally wrapped up in. They hold our memories and hopes for the future so people dont like to get rid of them, she says, perhaps nonchalantly sketching out a future songscape as she goes off to dream another highway.

The Gillian Welch/Dave Rawlings Machine tour of Australia begins in Perth on 30 January and ends in Melbourne on 19 February

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/jan/27/gillian-welch-on-the-healing-power-of-road-trips-in-every-street-sign-there-is-poetry

Sideways author: ‘I was ready to shoot myself then I found pinot noir’

His riotous story of two buddies on a wine-and-woman odyssey intoxicated the world. As Sideways hits the stage, Rex Pickett recalls how he went from debt-ridden divorcee to the toast of Hollywood

In 1998, my life was in the proverbial Dixie dumpster. I was living in Santa Monica in a rent-controlled house. I was dead broke. My indie feature film career had been poleaxed. My wife, who produced and acted in those films, and I had parted company. My mother had suffered a massive stroke. A larcenous younger brother had swooped down to steal what was left of my meagre trust fund. I had a novel that had been doing the rounds of the New York publishing world, to no avail. Messengers started pounding on my door at 6am to serve me lawsuits on old debts.

In short, if I could have afforded a gun I would have shot myself. Instead, I thought, this is a good time to alchemise my destitute and despairing life into, uh, er, ahem well, writers are like thieves: were always working.

Long story, but I had fallen in love with wine, particularly one variety: pinot noir. Why that over cabernet or syrah or viognier or riesling? To me, it seemed an ethereal grape. When sourced from great vineyards, when vinified with care, it spoke to me like Lorelei of the Lakes. In my lowly state, I had not fallen in love with a woman who was going to be the answer to all my problems. I had fallen in love with a grape a grape that drove me to lyrical heights.

I started attending tastings. It was my only social outlet. I met wine geeks for whom the drink was almost a religion. I related to their passion. The Saturday afternoon tastings at Epicurus in Santa Monica are now legendary. A Brit named Julian Davies worked the floor peddling wine. Julian opened bottles I could never have afforded and taught me much of what I know about wine. Through him, I began to understand that the knowledge surrounding wine was a bottomless ocean that could never be mastered.

This
This is heaven Sideways, with Paul Giamatti on right. Photograph: Merie W Wallace/Fox Searchlight Pictures/Handou/Reuters

This wasnt just an alcoholic beverage anodyne to a miserable life. This was a world of mystery, inhabited by artisans who were in it for the love of the final product: a wine, when made right, could make you levitate, transport you to another world, hoist you to heights of, well, poetry. It set my imagination spinning.

Back then, the Santa Ynez Valley was a little known wine region north of Santa Barbara. Maybe 50 wineries now more than 250. Very little pinot noir had been planted in the 90s when I started sojourning up there, first to play golf, then to get familiar with the wines. I loathed Los Angeles and the cruel film industry that had brought me so much misery. So I would throw my golf clubs in the car and take off. Soon, instead of golfing, I went wine tasting. I hung out at the Hitching Post restaurant and befriended local winemakers. My fascination deepened. I discovered small, ramshackle tasting rooms in this sylvan paradise a mere two hours from the horrors of LA, and I thought: This is heaven.

On one trip, I brought along my friend Roy Gittens, an electrician on my failed second film. We went wine tasting. I made him laugh. Tasting room after tasting room. More wine. And some golf. And ostrich and pinot at the Hitching Post. At some point during that trip, he suggested I write a screenplay about guys who go wine-tasting. Galvanised, I wrote a screenplay called Two Guys on Wine. I didnt like it. There was something about it that didnt work. The rejection letters on my novel continued to pour in.

Meanwhile, my publishing agent had come out from New York to Los Angeles to be a book-to-film agent. I had started to write a short story about the Saturday tastings and the wild times with Julian and the group. It was written in the first person, from the standpoint of one Miles Raymond, and related an afternoon where things, well, degenerate into a brawl.

When I got to the end of the story, I stood up and exclaimed out loud to the wall: Wow, Two Guys on Wine will be a novel, not a screenplay. It will be a wine-soaked journey where everything that could go wrong will go wrong. All their midlife crises Miless inability to sell his novel, his friends upcoming nuptials will be the spine upon which my characters will hold the reins, as if trying to stay on a bucking bronco.

Author
I got to pour high-end pinot! Rex Pickett at rehearsals. Photograph: Pamela Raith

Although my book would be filled with depression, despair and sadness (because thats where my life was), I knew no one would want to read it unless I made it funny! The greatest wines are those with the perfect balance of acidity and fruit, and my novel would combine those elements. Galvanised, I wrote Two Guys on Wine in nine weeks in an absolute conflagration of creative oblivion. I forgot who I was. I poured in everything: my divorce, my destitution, my failed writing career, my loneliness, my friendship with Roy, and my newfound love for wine, especially the singularly mysterious pinot noir.

When I was done, I felt depressed. I had lived the journey in my imagination, and that was such a wonderful feeling. I had, through the power of words, found a way to make myself laugh, cry and see things about myself that I didnt know. My agent went nuts for it. My ex-wife, owner of an Academy Award for a short film I wrote, hated it and told me in no uncertain terms: Burn it. It will end your career. But Barbara, I said, I have no career.

When Alexander Paynes film of my book came out in 2004, Merlot went from 20% of the red wine market in the US to a grim 7% because of one line uttered by Miles, played by Paul Giamatti, and pinot noir shot up from 1% to almost 8%. Wine appreciation and tasting became hip. The Santa Ynez Valley, where the film was shot, witnessed a flood of tourism that has not abated. I saw little of the spoils, but I didnt care. What mattered to me was the validation, the more than 350 awards we won including the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay. It was a heady time.

Several years later, I was approached about doing a theatrical adaptation for a small venue in Santa Monica. I didnt want to. I thought it would look like I was capitalising on a popular and fondly remembered film that, alas, could only now be enjoyed on DVD. Then I thought: after all the spotlight-hogging and credit-grabbing that had pushed me and the novel I had suffered to write to the periphery in a way that only Hollywood can, this could be a way to reclaim my intellectual property. Everywhere I went, I met people who didnt know me, but if I mentioned Sideways, their eyes lit up. Something about it touched a nerve. I thought, why not? If it fails, well, Im no stranger to failure!

The
The journey has only begun Sideways rehearsals. Photograph: Pamela Raith

The play was staged at the 50-seat Ruskin Group theatre, in Santa Monica. It was directed by Amelia Mulkey, who had only staged one play. We gave three performances a week, and it ran for a record-shattering six months. I was at the theatre three nights a week for the entire run. I got more love there than in my entire childhood. I got to pour for free! high-end pinot noir from all over the world, liberally and profligately, in proper pinot noir stemware!

Soon, wine regions around the globe were clamouring for the play. Broadway was calling with its siren charms and dangerously high standards. But I wanted London. I had heard that its off West End scene was one of the most vibrant in the world. My play celebrated language, with Miless surreal soliloquies, and the comedy felt rowdily British. As I write this, I have now been in London for less than a week. We have begun rehearsals.

One day with no money and hitting 40 as if it was a wall and I was steering a rickety old car without brakes I sat down and wrote a novel, a two-decade-long saga of heartbreak, failure and triumph. I helped transform the wine industry and inspired millions of people to seek out what Miles discovered in his beloved pinot noir. I wanted to celebrate that feeling everyone who has fallen in love with wine knows so intimately. And I have a sneaking feeling the journey has only just begun.

Sideways is at St James theatre, London, 26 May-9 July. Box office: 0844-264 2140.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/may/15/sideways-author-i-was-ready-to-shoot-myself-then-i-found-pinot-noir

Space Jam at 20: ‘The perfect movie’ or one of modern cinema’s biggest follies?

The odd combination of Looney Tunes, basketball, aliens and Michael Jordan remains a cult favorite with fans still calling for a sequel

Nostalgia! Boy, does it come in handy at times like this. Why dwell on the impending doom ushered in by a Donald Trump presidency when you can travel back to a happier, simpler time maybe a time when cartoon characters played basketball with Michael Jordan?

Yes, its the 20th anniversary of the theatrical release of Space Jam the alleged classic in which the Chicago Bulls icon Jordan teamed up with the Looney Tunes to play a collection of jacked-up aliens in a game of basketball where punches, kicks, slaps, and dynamite were all legal.

In the years since this 90-minute product placement was unleashed, its taken on a significance within the culture that might not be appropriate for a film where Porky Pig wets himself. Some have begged for the long-rumored sequel starring LeBron James to finally come to fruition. Others, such as the NBA player Patrick Patterson, have claimed that Space Jam is the perfect movie and is too sacred to ever replicate. It felt like it actually happened, he says in a piece for the Players Tribune.

Could Space Jam have actually happened, like Patterson said? Could aliens really kidnap animated characters and force them to play sports? Is Bill Murray really capable of a crisp, Magic Johnson-esque behind-the-back pass? Is this movie even actually good, or have clinically depressed millennials turned Space Jam into an avatar for their dashed childhood hopes and dreams, a salve for the crushing disappointment that is literally everything about being an adult? Lets find out, shall we?

The film begins simply enough, with a young MJ shooting hoops in his backyard in 1973. His father does what any self-respecting dad should do: he encourages his kid to keep practicing and developing his game. This portion of the film resembles a naturalistic sports movie, an underdog story about a young black child who wants to learn to fly.

The journey for our hero is simple: after a stint as a minor league baseball player, Jordan must recapture his love of basketball in time to prevent the owner of a failing amusement park on another planet from kidnapping the Looney Tunes (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, the Tasmanian Devil, Tweety Bird, etc) and forcing them to work as sideshow attractions. Why the Looney Tunes? Because said owner has a wall of TV monitors playing classic cartoons starring the Looney Tunes.

You might be wondering how Jordan is as an actor. After all, this was his one and only cinematic starring role. Like Eminem in 8 Mile and Pamela Anderson in Barb Wire, he went out on top, an unquestioned master of his craft.

Just kidding, hes terrible! It doesnt matter what the situation is: Jordan will crack a wry smile. He could be riding in Wayne Knights beat-up old car or being sucked through a hole in a golf course and spit back out in a parallel universe full of talking animals he will eventually smile. I have to assume this is a residual from his highly lucrative career as a commercial pitchman. At the end of an advert, the pitchman must smile, so that you, the potential consumer, will be aware that the product in question will render all of your pain and torment manageable. Heres Michael Jordan smiling at the end of a Hanes commercial. Heres Michael Jordan smiling at the end of a McDonalds commercial. Heres Michael Jordan smiling in Space Jam, in a scene where hes supposed to look imposing.

The Looney Tunes dont fare much better. The script crams in every cliched old-timey joke the writers can think of, even referencing the movie Patton, which is, of course, every childs favorite movie. After Jordan travels to the Earths core, where scary cartoon land exists, hes examined by Daffy Duck to make sure hes as impressive a physical specimen as his reputation suggests. Daffy peers into Jordans ear canal and in addition to a fair amount of waxy build-up, theres a lone paper clip inside Jordans skull. Is this implying that NBA Hall of Famer and six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan puts metal objects inside his own ear canal? Was this a childhood injury? Will the paper clip prove to be crucial in the third act denouement?

Absolutely not on all counts. Its just a cheap visual gag. Michael Jordan doesnt put paper clips inside his ears. That was a dirty rumor started by Karl Malone, who, to this day, is still upset he was not given a part in Space Jam.

Space
Space Jam: Bill Murray, Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan. Photograph: Moviestore Collection/REX

The NBA players who did make the cut include Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Muggsy Bogues, and the 7ft Mormon bust Shawn Bradley, whose presence in this film is more mystifying than even the presence of the sexy rabbit Lola Bunny, whom all the cartoons want to make love to. I dont mean to slut-shame an animated character, but the presence of a female Bugs Bunny in short shorts adds nothing to the film except a few scenes of male cartoons cat-calling her after she dunks and bends over to retrieve the ball.

Sex isnt just for anthropomorphic, English-speaking critters. The minions of the owner of the amusement park (subtly named Moron Mountain) steal the basketball ability of the aforementioned NBA players, turning them from puny mutant punching bags into the Monstars a fearsome collection of meatheads and thugs. So, in other words, the 1994 New York Knicks. Patrick Ewing, stripped of his talent, seeks out the aid of a psychiatrist. Are there other areas of his life besides basketball where you find yourself unable to perform? the psychiatrist asks. Ewing takes a beat to consider his query before responding no. Never forget this powerful axiom: Patrick Ewing is never not horny.

The Looney Tunes (or Tune Squad, as they are referred to on the hardwood) hardly practice before what the announcers call the ultimate game. It shows, as the Monstars take a commanding lead in the first half. Its exactly what youd expect in a contest between the greatest player of all time and five brightly colored creatures that look like theyve gotten into Barry Bondss personal juice stash. The Tune Squad comes back to tie the game in predictable fashion thanks to a tepid Jordan halftime pep talk (and a clever gambit by Bugs where he pretends that a bottle of water is actually a special potion Jordan uses to play better). In lieu of any basketball skill, the Tune Squad uses explosives, deception, unchecked sex appeal, and the five-time NBA MVP to even the odds with the freakish beasts.

The Monstars try their best to reclaim the lead, going as far as maiming their opponents, necessitating Jordan adding Bill Murray to fill the final roster spot. Murray is obviously having a great time acting with Michael Jordan and a collection of tennis balls on sticks where cartoons are supposed to be, so good for him. Jordan wins the game with a miraculous dunk from the half-court line over an impossibly large defender as the clock slowly ticks to zero. The Tune Squad absolutely benefit from a game clock that stretched the final ten seconds into about two-and-a-half minutes of screen time. Also, Michael Jordan develops the ability to stretch his arms like Reed Richards from the Fantastic Four, which came in handy in the 1998 Finals.

Finally, Jordan stands triumphant, makes the Monstars return the NBA players talent (though I dont think Shawn Bradley ever got his back), and rejoins the Bulls as the credits roll. Is Patrick Patterson right? Is this the perfect movie? Only if your idea of the perfect movie includes Newman from Seinfeld being flattened by a giant alien ass and then getting reinflated with what looks like a leaf blower. I laughed once, and it was when the psychiatrist asked Patrick Ewing if he was impotent. Actually, I also laughed any time Larry Bird had to try acting. If you are truly invested in Space Jam getting a sequel where the Monstars are out for revenge, but uh oh, they didnt count on LeBron James, then I recommend you rewatch the original Space Jam. If, after Michael Jordans arm stretches 30ft to enable a physically impossible game-winning dunk, you are still prepared to greenlight this film tomorrow, then by all means, create a whitehouse.gov petition. I can see Trump making this a key tenet of his re-election campaign.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/nov/15/space-jam-20th-anniversary-michael-jordan

Gillian Welch on the healing power of road trips: ‘In every street sign there is poetry’

The Americana star and musical partner David Rawlings are embarking on a 7,000km-plus drive across Australia, taking in two laps of the east coast

Gillian Welch wants to see some kangaroos. She didnt see any the only other time she was in Australia so the country music star wants to rectify that when she returns for the first time in 12 long years. And since the tour is as much road trip as musical event band and crew are going to drive between gigs, starting in Perth and taking in two laps of the east coast it seems designed for the purpose.

Last time we saw some wombats I think thats what they were going across the road, a whole mess of em. But we didnt see kangaroos so I want to see some this time, says Welch, who is well aware that there might not be much else to look at on parts of the 7,000km-plus trip.

The tour has been designed by us, she says, meaning herself and musical partner Dave Rawlings. Weve wanted to do this for a long time. Last time we drove from Brisbane to Melbourne and that was the end of the tour. We didnt get to turn the corner and continue the tour.

Everyone is super excited and they know what were in for. People say to me, Its different to the US, theres nothing in between. But my reaction to that is, Great. People dont tour the way we do.

There is no doubt the pair are a bit different. Apart from the driving thing (have they even looked at the map, I wonder?), they are splitting the focus of the tour so Welch takes centre stage with her material from Perth to Brisbane before they morph into the Dave Rawlings Machine from Brisbane back to Melbourne.

Welchs sublime blend of country, blues and folk traditions has led to sold-out shows in Australia. Songs such as Caleb Meyer, April the 14th and I Dream a Highway have established a special niche in the Americana catalogue. With Welch spinning tales of Okies and outlaws, backed by Rawlings harmonies and dipping and soaring guitar licks, they make for a spellbinding stage spectacle.

We really enjoy playing live and like being on the road, Welch says. It feels like what Im supposed to be doing. Theres something natural about it. Its such a sense of how you get better by playing a chunk of shows.

We hope the shows are transportive, transfixing. Were trying to give people a unique experience. I hold playing live in special regard. And its different because of the people who show up.

Welch has not released new material under her name since 2011 but the Machine recently released an excellent second album, Nashville Obsolete, showcasing the pairs rockier impulses and Rawlings extraordinary guitar playing.

With the tour, we hope people will get both bands, Welch says. When we get to Brisbane, were going to turn around and reverse direction. Two different ensembles, two different catalogues.

Its been really important doing both and trying to broaden what we do because it can get focused right down to a razors edge. We have the same record collections but he cant do what I can do, and I cant do what he does. We get to cover different territory and the music that we love. With the Machine we push deeper into that Dylanesque, ramshackle rock. And I can push deeper into the Stanley brothers, Townes Van Zandt kind of stuff.

Welch seems to have inherited the natural storytelling gift of those great names. She was born in New York but adopted as a baby before growing up in California where her parents worked as TV writers. Many people have wondered how this woman from the coasts can evoke the spirit of the US south so vividly. But, speaking to her by phone as she and Rawlings drive to a show in Houston, its obvious how she brings the sights and sounds of the American landscape to life, from the beauty of Appalachia to the backyard wreckage of abandoned cars.

Being on the road is my way to check in with the state of the union, she says. Its a first-hand way to see whats going on out here, to get the vibe.

I always say to people, if theyre feeling depressed go take a road trip and see whats actually happening. Ive never been bored in a car. In every street sign there is poetry and history and all these beautiful images. You see so much crazy stuff. The other day I saw an old car buried in beer cans. Someone had filled big 60-gallon bags with the cans and left them all on top of the car. But over time the bags had popped open and covered the car in cans.

The US is a real car culture which the country is totally wrapped up in. They hold our memories and hopes for the future so people dont like to get rid of them, she says, perhaps nonchalantly sketching out a future songscape as she goes off to dream another highway.

The Gillian Welch/Dave Rawlings Machine tour of Australia begins in Perth on 30 January and ends in Melbourne on 19 February

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/jan/27/gillian-welch-on-the-healing-power-of-road-trips-in-every-street-sign-there-is-poetry

Sideways author: ‘I was ready to shoot myself then I found pinot noir’

His riotous story of two buddies on a wine-and-woman odyssey intoxicated the world. As Sideways hits the stage, Rex Pickett recalls how he went from debt-ridden divorcee to the toast of Hollywood

In 1998, my life was in the proverbial Dixie dumpster. I was living in Santa Monica in a rent-controlled house. I was dead broke. My indie feature film career had been poleaxed. My wife, who produced and acted in those films, and I had parted company. My mother had suffered a massive stroke. A larcenous younger brother had swooped down to steal what was left of my meagre trust fund. I had a novel that had been doing the rounds of the New York publishing world, to no avail. Messengers started pounding on my door at 6am to serve me lawsuits on old debts.

In short, if I could have afforded a gun I would have shot myself. Instead, I thought, this is a good time to alchemise my destitute and despairing life into, uh, er, ahem well, writers are like thieves: were always working.

Long story, but I had fallen in love with wine, particularly one variety: pinot noir. Why that over cabernet or syrah or viognier or riesling? To me, it seemed an ethereal grape. When sourced from great vineyards, when vinified with care, it spoke to me like Lorelei of the Lakes. In my lowly state, I had not fallen in love with a woman who was going to be the answer to all my problems. I had fallen in love with a grape a grape that drove me to lyrical heights.

I started attending tastings. It was my only social outlet. I met wine geeks for whom the drink was almost a religion. I related to their passion. The Saturday afternoon tastings at Epicurus in Santa Monica are now legendary. A Brit named Julian Davies worked the floor peddling wine. Julian opened bottles I could never have afforded and taught me much of what I know about wine. Through him, I began to understand that the knowledge surrounding wine was a bottomless ocean that could never be mastered.

This
This is heaven Sideways, with Paul Giamatti on right. Photograph: Merie W Wallace/Fox Searchlight Pictures/Handou/Reuters

This wasnt just an alcoholic beverage anodyne to a miserable life. This was a world of mystery, inhabited by artisans who were in it for the love of the final product: a wine, when made right, could make you levitate, transport you to another world, hoist you to heights of, well, poetry. It set my imagination spinning.

Back then, the Santa Ynez Valley was a little known wine region north of Santa Barbara. Maybe 50 wineries now more than 250. Very little pinot noir had been planted in the 90s when I started sojourning up there, first to play golf, then to get familiar with the wines. I loathed Los Angeles and the cruel film industry that had brought me so much misery. So I would throw my golf clubs in the car and take off. Soon, instead of golfing, I went wine tasting. I hung out at the Hitching Post restaurant and befriended local winemakers. My fascination deepened. I discovered small, ramshackle tasting rooms in this sylvan paradise a mere two hours from the horrors of LA, and I thought: This is heaven.

On one trip, I brought along my friend Roy Gittens, an electrician on my failed second film. We went wine tasting. I made him laugh. Tasting room after tasting room. More wine. And some golf. And ostrich and pinot at the Hitching Post. At some point during that trip, he suggested I write a screenplay about guys who go wine-tasting. Galvanised, I wrote a screenplay called Two Guys on Wine. I didnt like it. There was something about it that didnt work. The rejection letters on my novel continued to pour in.

Meanwhile, my publishing agent had come out from New York to Los Angeles to be a book-to-film agent. I had started to write a short story about the Saturday tastings and the wild times with Julian and the group. It was written in the first person, from the standpoint of one Miles Raymond, and related an afternoon where things, well, degenerate into a brawl.

When I got to the end of the story, I stood up and exclaimed out loud to the wall: Wow, Two Guys on Wine will be a novel, not a screenplay. It will be a wine-soaked journey where everything that could go wrong will go wrong. All their midlife crises Miless inability to sell his novel, his friends upcoming nuptials will be the spine upon which my characters will hold the reins, as if trying to stay on a bucking bronco.

Author
I got to pour high-end pinot! Rex Pickett at rehearsals. Photograph: Pamela Raith

Although my book would be filled with depression, despair and sadness (because thats where my life was), I knew no one would want to read it unless I made it funny! The greatest wines are those with the perfect balance of acidity and fruit, and my novel would combine those elements. Galvanised, I wrote Two Guys on Wine in nine weeks in an absolute conflagration of creative oblivion. I forgot who I was. I poured in everything: my divorce, my destitution, my failed writing career, my loneliness, my friendship with Roy, and my newfound love for wine, especially the singularly mysterious pinot noir.

When I was done, I felt depressed. I had lived the journey in my imagination, and that was such a wonderful feeling. I had, through the power of words, found a way to make myself laugh, cry and see things about myself that I didnt know. My agent went nuts for it. My ex-wife, owner of an Academy Award for a short film I wrote, hated it and told me in no uncertain terms: Burn it. It will end your career. But Barbara, I said, I have no career.

When Alexander Paynes film of my book came out in 2004, Merlot went from 20% of the red wine market in the US to a grim 7% because of one line uttered by Miles, played by Paul Giamatti, and pinot noir shot up from 1% to almost 8%. Wine appreciation and tasting became hip. The Santa Ynez Valley, where the film was shot, witnessed a flood of tourism that has not abated. I saw little of the spoils, but I didnt care. What mattered to me was the validation, the more than 350 awards we won including the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay. It was a heady time.

Several years later, I was approached about doing a theatrical adaptation for a small venue in Santa Monica. I didnt want to. I thought it would look like I was capitalising on a popular and fondly remembered film that, alas, could only now be enjoyed on DVD. Then I thought: after all the spotlight-hogging and credit-grabbing that had pushed me and the novel I had suffered to write to the periphery in a way that only Hollywood can, this could be a way to reclaim my intellectual property. Everywhere I went, I met people who didnt know me, but if I mentioned Sideways, their eyes lit up. Something about it touched a nerve. I thought, why not? If it fails, well, Im no stranger to failure!

The
The journey has only begun Sideways rehearsals. Photograph: Pamela Raith

The play was staged at the 50-seat Ruskin Group theatre, in Santa Monica. It was directed by Amelia Mulkey, who had only staged one play. We gave three performances a week, and it ran for a record-shattering six months. I was at the theatre three nights a week for the entire run. I got more love there than in my entire childhood. I got to pour for free! high-end pinot noir from all over the world, liberally and profligately, in proper pinot noir stemware!

Soon, wine regions around the globe were clamouring for the play. Broadway was calling with its siren charms and dangerously high standards. But I wanted London. I had heard that its off West End scene was one of the most vibrant in the world. My play celebrated language, with Miless surreal soliloquies, and the comedy felt rowdily British. As I write this, I have now been in London for less than a week. We have begun rehearsals.

One day with no money and hitting 40 as if it was a wall and I was steering a rickety old car without brakes I sat down and wrote a novel, a two-decade-long saga of heartbreak, failure and triumph. I helped transform the wine industry and inspired millions of people to seek out what Miles discovered in his beloved pinot noir. I wanted to celebrate that feeling everyone who has fallen in love with wine knows so intimately. And I have a sneaking feeling the journey has only just begun.

Sideways is at St James theatre, London, 26 May-9 July. Box office: 0844-264 2140.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/may/15/sideways-author-i-was-ready-to-shoot-myself-then-i-found-pinot-noir

Space Jam at 20: ‘The perfect movie’ or one of modern cinema’s biggest follies?

The odd combination of Looney Tunes, basketball, aliens and Michael Jordan remains a cult favorite with fans still calling for a sequel

Nostalgia! Boy, does it come in handy at times like this. Why dwell on the impending doom ushered in by a Donald Trump presidency when you can travel back to a happier, simpler time maybe a time when cartoon characters played basketball with Michael Jordan?

Yes, its the 20th anniversary of the theatrical release of Space Jam the alleged classic in which the Chicago Bulls icon Jordan teamed up with the Looney Tunes to play a collection of jacked-up aliens in a game of basketball where punches, kicks, slaps, and dynamite were all legal.

In the years since this 90-minute product placement was unleashed, its taken on a significance within the culture that might not be appropriate for a film where Porky Pig wets himself. Some have begged for the long-rumored sequel starring LeBron James to finally come to fruition. Others, such as the NBA player Patrick Patterson, have claimed that Space Jam is the perfect movie and is too sacred to ever replicate. It felt like it actually happened, he says in a piece for the Players Tribune.

Could Space Jam have actually happened, like Patterson said? Could aliens really kidnap animated characters and force them to play sports? Is Bill Murray really capable of a crisp, Magic Johnson-esque behind-the-back pass? Is this movie even actually good, or have clinically depressed millennials turned Space Jam into an avatar for their dashed childhood hopes and dreams, a salve for the crushing disappointment that is literally everything about being an adult? Lets find out, shall we?

The film begins simply enough, with a young MJ shooting hoops in his backyard in 1973. His father does what any self-respecting dad should do: he encourages his kid to keep practicing and developing his game. This portion of the film resembles a naturalistic sports movie, an underdog story about a young black child who wants to learn to fly.

The journey for our hero is simple: after a stint as a minor league baseball player, Jordan must recapture his love of basketball in time to prevent the owner of a failing amusement park on another planet from kidnapping the Looney Tunes (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, the Tasmanian Devil, Tweety Bird, etc) and forcing them to work as sideshow attractions. Why the Looney Tunes? Because said owner has a wall of TV monitors playing classic cartoons starring the Looney Tunes.

You might be wondering how Jordan is as an actor. After all, this was his one and only cinematic starring role. Like Eminem in 8 Mile and Pamela Anderson in Barb Wire, he went out on top, an unquestioned master of his craft.

Just kidding, hes terrible! It doesnt matter what the situation is: Jordan will crack a wry smile. He could be riding in Wayne Knights beat-up old car or being sucked through a hole in a golf course and spit back out in a parallel universe full of talking animals he will eventually smile. I have to assume this is a residual from his highly lucrative career as a commercial pitchman. At the end of an advert, the pitchman must smile, so that you, the potential consumer, will be aware that the product in question will render all of your pain and torment manageable. Heres Michael Jordan smiling at the end of a Hanes commercial. Heres Michael Jordan smiling at the end of a McDonalds commercial. Heres Michael Jordan smiling in Space Jam, in a scene where hes supposed to look imposing.

The Looney Tunes dont fare much better. The script crams in every cliched old-timey joke the writers can think of, even referencing the movie Patton, which is, of course, every childs favorite movie. After Jordan travels to the Earths core, where scary cartoon land exists, hes examined by Daffy Duck to make sure hes as impressive a physical specimen as his reputation suggests. Daffy peers into Jordans ear canal and in addition to a fair amount of waxy build-up, theres a lone paper clip inside Jordans skull. Is this implying that NBA Hall of Famer and six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan puts metal objects inside his own ear canal? Was this a childhood injury? Will the paper clip prove to be crucial in the third act denouement?

Absolutely not on all counts. Its just a cheap visual gag. Michael Jordan doesnt put paper clips inside his ears. That was a dirty rumor started by Karl Malone, who, to this day, is still upset he was not given a part in Space Jam.

Space
Space Jam: Bill Murray, Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan. Photograph: Moviestore Collection/REX

The NBA players who did make the cut include Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Muggsy Bogues, and the 7ft Mormon bust Shawn Bradley, whose presence in this film is more mystifying than even the presence of the sexy rabbit Lola Bunny, whom all the cartoons want to make love to. I dont mean to slut-shame an animated character, but the presence of a female Bugs Bunny in short shorts adds nothing to the film except a few scenes of male cartoons cat-calling her after she dunks and bends over to retrieve the ball.

Sex isnt just for anthropomorphic, English-speaking critters. The minions of the owner of the amusement park (subtly named Moron Mountain) steal the basketball ability of the aforementioned NBA players, turning them from puny mutant punching bags into the Monstars a fearsome collection of meatheads and thugs. So, in other words, the 1994 New York Knicks. Patrick Ewing, stripped of his talent, seeks out the aid of a psychiatrist. Are there other areas of his life besides basketball where you find yourself unable to perform? the psychiatrist asks. Ewing takes a beat to consider his query before responding no. Never forget this powerful axiom: Patrick Ewing is never not horny.

The Looney Tunes (or Tune Squad, as they are referred to on the hardwood) hardly practice before what the announcers call the ultimate game. It shows, as the Monstars take a commanding lead in the first half. Its exactly what youd expect in a contest between the greatest player of all time and five brightly colored creatures that look like theyve gotten into Barry Bondss personal juice stash. The Tune Squad comes back to tie the game in predictable fashion thanks to a tepid Jordan halftime pep talk (and a clever gambit by Bugs where he pretends that a bottle of water is actually a special potion Jordan uses to play better). In lieu of any basketball skill, the Tune Squad uses explosives, deception, unchecked sex appeal, and the five-time NBA MVP to even the odds with the freakish beasts.

The Monstars try their best to reclaim the lead, going as far as maiming their opponents, necessitating Jordan adding Bill Murray to fill the final roster spot. Murray is obviously having a great time acting with Michael Jordan and a collection of tennis balls on sticks where cartoons are supposed to be, so good for him. Jordan wins the game with a miraculous dunk from the half-court line over an impossibly large defender as the clock slowly ticks to zero. The Tune Squad absolutely benefit from a game clock that stretched the final ten seconds into about two-and-a-half minutes of screen time. Also, Michael Jordan develops the ability to stretch his arms like Reed Richards from the Fantastic Four, which came in handy in the 1998 Finals.

Finally, Jordan stands triumphant, makes the Monstars return the NBA players talent (though I dont think Shawn Bradley ever got his back), and rejoins the Bulls as the credits roll. Is Patrick Patterson right? Is this the perfect movie? Only if your idea of the perfect movie includes Newman from Seinfeld being flattened by a giant alien ass and then getting reinflated with what looks like a leaf blower. I laughed once, and it was when the psychiatrist asked Patrick Ewing if he was impotent. Actually, I also laughed any time Larry Bird had to try acting. If you are truly invested in Space Jam getting a sequel where the Monstars are out for revenge, but uh oh, they didnt count on LeBron James, then I recommend you rewatch the original Space Jam. If, after Michael Jordans arm stretches 30ft to enable a physically impossible game-winning dunk, you are still prepared to greenlight this film tomorrow, then by all means, create a whitehouse.gov petition. I can see Trump making this a key tenet of his re-election campaign.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/nov/15/space-jam-20th-anniversary-michael-jordan

One-Way Ticket To Italy: 5 Things That Made Me Reevaluate My Wanderlust

Want to know what its like to buy a one-way ticket to a foreign country for an indefinite period of time?

When I told my family and friends I was packing up and going to Italy, I didnt hear a single person say, “Why? Thats a bad idea.”

Thats because people are drawn to travel. The idea of leaving our boring, old routines and dull, daily experiences is enticing.

For me, the idea of graduate school, getting a big-girl job or moving home with my parents made my stomach turn.

Travel is exciting, and traveling without a plan to come home? Well, that seemed even better.

So, I graduated early from college. I left two jobs I couldve advanced in, and I said goodbye to a solid foundation of family and friends in Colorado.

With good savings and not much of a plan, I moved in with a foreign family in the Tuscan hills to teach their kids English.

Sounds like an Italian dream, right?

Well, sort of.

There isn’t a single day that has passed when I regret leaving. Butevery day here has alsomade me feel so stressed and confused.

I have to continuously drown out the little voice in my head that says, What the hell are you doing here?

I know what Im doing here.

Im experiencing the independence of living halfway across the world, and Im in love with the food, the culture and the history.

Its all incredible to be a part of.

When catcalls are replaced with kisses on the cheek and Ciao, bella, I know Ill never put up with American college boys ever again.

But, this is not a dream.

I dont understand 90 percent of what people say to me. Theres dog poop on the sidewalk and smelly men sitting next to me on the bus.

This is real life, where things tend to go wrong as often as they can.

I moved in with a nightmare of a family who decided not to pay me when I told them I was leaving.

My friend got drugged at a bar and woke up in the hospital without any memory of what happened.

My purse containing every dollar I have, my debit card, the WiFi device that makes my phone work and numerous other small things was taken directly from my feet at a coffee shop.

Extended travel to is not an extended vacation complete with nice meals out, tour guides and a million photographs.

In a foreign city, you have to make

You have to make a lot of adjustments when you’re in aforeign city, where you simultaneously get kicked in the ass and slapped in the face from all the mistakes you inevitably make.

But, the beauty does show up eventually.

During the small moments, you’re given a chance to catch your breath and realize exactly what you’ve gone though.

Im notnave to how much this experience is changing me for the better, but nobody said change was easy.

Its important to understand the reality of the fantasy that is so prevalent in our culture.

Without a study abroad program to plan my semester, my moms hug on rough days, consistent access to my phone and the Internet or any familiar faces, I present to you my reality of living halfway across the world:

1. The best way to understand a culture is to live like a local.

My father is from Italy, and I visited multiple times with my family when I was a child. So, I had a leg up on some of the surprising customs that come with the Italian lifestyle.

But really, you dont completely understand a culture until you live in it day in and day out.

Simple things like learning how public transportation works, how to appropriately greet the locals and speak their language and how not to give a single f*ck about the rules of driving through the streets become hard to master.

For me, these daily changes hold the truest value of travel.

I see groups of tourists waddle on by with McDonald’s. (Sorry, America, but its true).

I hear sorority girls in their leggings talk about how drunk they got last weekend.

I listen to my new German friends criticize cultures that dont follow German standards, refusing to let a new way of life make its way into their minds.

To me, this isnt a great way to travel. This is just passing through.


2. Things will go wrong, so learn to laugh at them.

Even when you’ve perfectly analyzed every situation to avoid all obstacles, something will eventually go wrong.

Flights get canceled, trains get delayed, things get stolen and the weather doesnt cooperate with your plans.

Thats how life goes.

The sh*tty situations will eventually turn into precious, pivotal moments, though they seem like the end of the world at the time.

I tend to see things with such serious eyes, forgetting how incredible it is to wake up in Italy each morning.

Laugh at the blunders. The less seriously we take it all, the easier our lives become.


3. People at home will not understand what youre going through.

I love Skyping my friends at home. Theres something so relaxing about their smiles, voices and stories.

But, the only friend Ive been able to relate to is the one who is currently in Africa experiencing similar, independent, long-term travel.

He understands the stress that comes with a life like this.

So much of friendship is built upon relating to one another and feeling understood and accepted.

After college, we go our different ways. Paths change, and so do the dynamics of friendship.

Its more difficult to empathize with someone when you have no idea what he or she is going through.

Accepting travel as a personal experience, rather than something your friends must validate is, in my opinion, a crucial rule to indulging in all it has to offer.


4. Comfort has an entirely new value.

Im talking about that oversized hoodie, long drives in your old car, waking up to your best friends in your bed and walking through familiar streets.

Say goodbye to that for a very long time.

These everyday things we take for granted and often want to escape are what we value when were so far away from home.

We have the option to rebuild this type of comfort wherever we are, but it takes a lot of time to develop.

In the meantime, you learn to find comfort in the smallest of things, and you become comfortable with being really uncomfortable.


5. Insecurities dont disappear; they rise up when you’re out of your comfort zone.

Many of us have this idea that if we leave a place, our problems in that place will stay there, and we can safely escape.

This couldnt be further from the truth.

Problems become amplified.

They grow and grow, and then they are thrown right back in your face, giving you no option but to honestlylook at yourself.

Old patterns have a way of repeating themselves despite your location, and they demand attention if you want to keep your sanity.

Whether it’s addiction, old resentments that were pushed aside or undesirable personality traits, they are all increased with unfamiliarity and stress.

Living in denial becomes less of an option the further you push the boundaries of what you can handle.

Extended travel is, without a doubt, difficult work.

It’s not fantasy, but there are incredible moments everywhere when the beauty of travel becomes so clear.

This reminder of why I left and why Im staying here, despite the difficulties, is my motivation to stay.

Not only do I want a kickass story to tell my kids, but I want the confidence and reinforced bravery that tells me this type of adventure is worth the struggle.

Simply put, there are some things that must be personally experienced to be understood, and this is one of them.

With age comes fewer chances to travel, learn and grow without any other commitments.

So, I say, go now.

Read more: http://elitedaily.com/life/culture/re-evaluate-wanderlust/1239982/

Sideways author: ‘I was ready to shoot myself then I found pinot noir’

His riotous story of two buddies on a wine-and-woman odyssey intoxicated the world. As Sideways hits the stage, Rex Pickett recalls how he went from debt-ridden divorcee to the toast of Hollywood

In 1998, my life was in the proverbial Dixie dumpster. I was living in Santa Monica in a rent-controlled house. I was dead broke. My indie feature film career had been poleaxed. My wife, who produced and acted in those films, and I had parted company. My mother had suffered a massive stroke. A larcenous younger brother had swooped down to steal what was left of my meagre trust fund. I had a novel that had been doing the rounds of the New York publishing world, to no avail. Messengers started pounding on my door at 6am to serve me lawsuits on old debts.

In short, if I could have afforded a gun I would have shot myself. Instead, I thought, this is a good time to alchemise my destitute and despairing life into, uh, er, ahem well, writers are like thieves: were always working.

Long story, but I had fallen in love with wine, particularly one variety: pinot noir. Why that over cabernet or syrah or viognier or riesling? To me, it seemed an ethereal grape. When sourced from great vineyards, when vinified with care, it spoke to me like Lorelei of the Lakes. In my lowly state, I had not fallen in love with a woman who was going to be the answer to all my problems. I had fallen in love with a grape a grape that drove me to lyrical heights.

I started attending tastings. It was my only social outlet. I met wine geeks for whom the drink was almost a religion. I related to their passion. The Saturday afternoon tastings at Epicurus in Santa Monica are now legendary. A Brit named Julian Davies worked the floor peddling wine. Julian opened bottles I could never have afforded and taught me much of what I know about wine. Through him, I began to understand that the knowledge surrounding wine was a bottomless ocean that could never be mastered.

This
This is heaven Sideways, with Paul Giamatti on right. Photograph: Merie W Wallace/Fox Searchlight Pictures/Handou/Reuters

This wasnt just an alcoholic beverage anodyne to a miserable life. This was a world of mystery, inhabited by artisans who were in it for the love of the final product: a wine, when made right, could make you levitate, transport you to another world, hoist you to heights of, well, poetry. It set my imagination spinning.

Back then, the Santa Ynez Valley was a little known wine region north of Santa Barbara. Maybe 50 wineries now more than 250. Very little pinot noir had been planted in the 90s when I started sojourning up there, first to play golf, then to get familiar with the wines. I loathed Los Angeles and the cruel film industry that had brought me so much misery. So I would throw my golf clubs in the car and take off. Soon, instead of golfing, I went wine tasting. I hung out at the Hitching Post restaurant and befriended local winemakers. My fascination deepened. I discovered small, ramshackle tasting rooms in this sylvan paradise a mere two hours from the horrors of LA, and I thought: This is heaven.

On one trip, I brought along my friend Roy Gittens, an electrician on my failed second film. We went wine tasting. I made him laugh. Tasting room after tasting room. More wine. And some golf. And ostrich and pinot at the Hitching Post. At some point during that trip, he suggested I write a screenplay about guys who go wine-tasting. Galvanised, I wrote a screenplay called Two Guys on Wine. I didnt like it. There was something about it that didnt work. The rejection letters on my novel continued to pour in.

Meanwhile, my publishing agent had come out from New York to Los Angeles to be a book-to-film agent. I had started to write a short story about the Saturday tastings and the wild times with Julian and the group. It was written in the first person, from the standpoint of one Miles Raymond, and related an afternoon where things, well, degenerate into a brawl.

When I got to the end of the story, I stood up and exclaimed out loud to the wall: Wow, Two Guys on Wine will be a novel, not a screenplay. It will be a wine-soaked journey where everything that could go wrong will go wrong. All their midlife crises Miless inability to sell his novel, his friends upcoming nuptials will be the spine upon which my characters will hold the reins, as if trying to stay on a bucking bronco.

Author
I got to pour high-end pinot! Rex Pickett at rehearsals. Photograph: Pamela Raith

Although my book would be filled with depression, despair and sadness (because thats where my life was), I knew no one would want to read it unless I made it funny! The greatest wines are those with the perfect balance of acidity and fruit, and my novel would combine those elements. Galvanised, I wrote Two Guys on Wine in nine weeks in an absolute conflagration of creative oblivion. I forgot who I was. I poured in everything: my divorce, my destitution, my failed writing career, my loneliness, my friendship with Roy, and my newfound love for wine, especially the singularly mysterious pinot noir.

When I was done, I felt depressed. I had lived the journey in my imagination, and that was such a wonderful feeling. I had, through the power of words, found a way to make myself laugh, cry and see things about myself that I didnt know. My agent went nuts for it. My ex-wife, owner of an Academy Award for a short film I wrote, hated it and told me in no uncertain terms: Burn it. It will end your career. But Barbara, I said, I have no career.

When Alexander Paynes film of my book came out in 2004, Merlot went from 20% of the red wine market in the US to a grim 7% because of one line uttered by Miles, played by Paul Giamatti, and pinot noir shot up from 1% to almost 8%. Wine appreciation and tasting became hip. The Santa Ynez Valley, where the film was shot, witnessed a flood of tourism that has not abated. I saw little of the spoils, but I didnt care. What mattered to me was the validation, the more than 350 awards we won including the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay. It was a heady time.

Several years later, I was approached about doing a theatrical adaptation for a small venue in Santa Monica. I didnt want to. I thought it would look like I was capitalising on a popular and fondly remembered film that, alas, could only now be enjoyed on DVD. Then I thought: after all the spotlight-hogging and credit-grabbing that had pushed me and the novel I had suffered to write to the periphery in a way that only Hollywood can, this could be a way to reclaim my intellectual property. Everywhere I went, I met people who didnt know me, but if I mentioned Sideways, their eyes lit up. Something about it touched a nerve. I thought, why not? If it fails, well, Im no stranger to failure!

The
The journey has only begun Sideways rehearsals. Photograph: Pamela Raith

The play was staged at the 50-seat Ruskin Group theatre, in Santa Monica. It was directed by Amelia Mulkey, who had only staged one play. We gave three performances a week, and it ran for a record-shattering six months. I was at the theatre three nights a week for the entire run. I got more love there than in my entire childhood. I got to pour for free! high-end pinot noir from all over the world, liberally and profligately, in proper pinot noir stemware!

Soon, wine regions around the globe were clamouring for the play. Broadway was calling with its siren charms and dangerously high standards. But I wanted London. I had heard that its off West End scene was one of the most vibrant in the world. My play celebrated language, with Miless surreal soliloquies, and the comedy felt rowdily British. As I write this, I have now been in London for less than a week. We have begun rehearsals.

One day with no money and hitting 40 as if it was a wall and I was steering a rickety old car without brakes I sat down and wrote a novel, a two-decade-long saga of heartbreak, failure and triumph. I helped transform the wine industry and inspired millions of people to seek out what Miles discovered in his beloved pinot noir. I wanted to celebrate that feeling everyone who has fallen in love with wine knows so intimately. And I have a sneaking feeling the journey has only just begun.

Sideways is at St James theatre, London, 26 May-9 July. Box office: 0844-264 2140.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/may/15/sideways-author-i-was-ready-to-shoot-myself-then-i-found-pinot-noir

Gillian Welch on the healing power of road trips: ‘In every street sign there is poetry’

The Americana star and musical partner David Rawlings are embarking on a 7,000km-plus drive across Australia, taking in two laps of the east coast

Gillian Welch wants to see some kangaroos. She didnt see any the only other time she was in Australia so the country music star wants to rectify that when she returns for the first time in 12 long years. And since the tour is as much road trip as musical event band and crew are going to drive between gigs, starting in Perth and taking in two laps of the east coast it seems designed for the purpose.

Last time we saw some wombats I think thats what they were going across the road, a whole mess of em. But we didnt see kangaroos so I want to see some this time, says Welch, who is well aware that there might not be much else to look at on parts of the 7,000km-plus trip.

The tour has been designed by us, she says, meaning herself and musical partner Dave Rawlings. Weve wanted to do this for a long time. Last time we drove from Brisbane to Melbourne and that was the end of the tour. We didnt get to turn the corner and continue the tour.

Everyone is super excited and they know what were in for. People say to me, Its different to the US, theres nothing in between. But my reaction to that is, Great. People dont tour the way we do.

There is no doubt the pair are a bit different. Apart from the driving thing (have they even looked at the map, I wonder?), they are splitting the focus of the tour so Welch takes centre stage with her material from Perth to Brisbane before they morph into the Dave Rawlings Machine from Brisbane back to Melbourne.

Welchs sublime blend of country, blues and folk traditions has led to sold-out shows in Australia. Songs such as Caleb Meyer, April the 14th and I Dream a Highway have established a special niche in the Americana catalogue. With Welch spinning tales of Okies and outlaws, backed by Rawlings harmonies and dipping and soaring guitar licks, they make for a spellbinding stage spectacle.

We really enjoy playing live and like being on the road, Welch says. It feels like what Im supposed to be doing. Theres something natural about it. Its such a sense of how you get better by playing a chunk of shows.

We hope the shows are transportive, transfixing. Were trying to give people a unique experience. I hold playing live in special regard. And its different because of the people who show up.

Welch has not released new material under her name since 2011 but the Machine recently released an excellent second album, Nashville Obsolete, showcasing the pairs rockier impulses and Rawlings extraordinary guitar playing.

With the tour, we hope people will get both bands, Welch says. When we get to Brisbane, were going to turn around and reverse direction. Two different ensembles, two different catalogues.

Its been really important doing both and trying to broaden what we do because it can get focused right down to a razors edge. We have the same record collections but he cant do what I can do, and I cant do what he does. We get to cover different territory and the music that we love. With the Machine we push deeper into that Dylanesque, ramshackle rock. And I can push deeper into the Stanley brothers, Townes Van Zandt kind of stuff.

Welch seems to have inherited the natural storytelling gift of those great names. She was born in New York but adopted as a baby before growing up in California where her parents worked as TV writers. Many people have wondered how this woman from the coasts can evoke the spirit of the US south so vividly. But, speaking to her by phone as she and Rawlings drive to a show in Houston, its obvious how she brings the sights and sounds of the American landscape to life, from the beauty of Appalachia to the backyard wreckage of abandoned cars.

Being on the road is my way to check in with the state of the union, she says. Its a first-hand way to see whats going on out here, to get the vibe.

I always say to people, if theyre feeling depressed go take a road trip and see whats actually happening. Ive never been bored in a car. In every street sign there is poetry and history and all these beautiful images. You see so much crazy stuff. The other day I saw an old car buried in beer cans. Someone had filled big 60-gallon bags with the cans and left them all on top of the car. But over time the bags had popped open and covered the car in cans.

The US is a real car culture which the country is totally wrapped up in. They hold our memories and hopes for the future so people dont like to get rid of them, she says, perhaps nonchalantly sketching out a future songscape as she goes off to dream another highway.

The Gillian Welch/Dave Rawlings Machine tour of Australia begins in Perth on 30 January and ends in Melbourne on 19 February

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/jan/27/gillian-welch-on-the-healing-power-of-road-trips-in-every-street-sign-there-is-poetry