Thursday, March 31, 2016


Our portrait done by one of our youngest and most devoted fans, Clementine of Linthwaite, England.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Doing Admin and Thinking About Cosmic Scotch Tape

My post from yesterday about doing admin (still doing admin today) made me think of this great drawing that our friend in the Lake District, John Hawson, made of me.

He was inspired by a post I wrote at the beginning of our fall 2015 tour. It's one of my truest and favorite reports about what we do, especially the "cosmic scotch tape" part. As I gather up all of the details of our tour in the UK, I am once again reminded of how our way in this world is "all so loose and held together with the cosmic scotch tape of friendship, good will, and a love of music."

September 24, 2015:

Report from I-40 heading west to Conway, Arkansas -- Reports are Back!: When I was in college, I wrote my thesis on Plato's Gorgias. Just in case you haven't had a chance to read it, the Gorgias poses the question, "What is the best life?" Don't rely on the Wikipedia page about it because the book they describe is nothing like what I read! Plato throws his lasso around a few possibilities of best life vocations: ruler, soldier, philosopher, and poet. That leaves out a lot, I know, like doctors, mechanics, and software developers. But you can kind of squeeze most jobs into one of Plato's categories. I'd put mechanics in with rulers because our mechanic told us that our Jeep was no longer ready for cross country treks, so I am writing from his tinyness Mr Tomato (our non-diesel VW Golf).

I can't say exactly why I majored in Classical Political Philosophy except that my Dad suggested I major in something more practical than visual art (he doesn't remember making this suggestion and it's ok because I got a second bachelor's in visual art just to cover all the bases), but I have always been deeply interested in what people choose to or have been called to do in their lives.

I do this weird job where I fight entirely against my nesting nature all of the time. Six or seven times a year, I spin myself (and my true love who was perfectly content tinkering in the music studio) out of our nest to spend a jillion hours in a car to perform music for a few hours (not joking - on this tour out west, we'll drive 5000 miles, about 83 hours, over 49 days, to perform 15 to 20 hours of music). This job is absurd and sublime in its absurdity. We mostly write songs about a tiny community in the Appalachian mountains and sing them to people from Los Angeles to London. In order to do this, I write people or we meet people and ask if we can play a concert for them, and if they say yes (thank you for saying yes), and when enough people who all live near each other say yes, we put six instruments and a bunch of other stuff in our car (or on a plane) and we go. It's all so loose and held together with the cosmic scotch tape of friendship, good will, and a love of music.

When I was finishing up my thesis (which was good, but flawed because of sleep deprivation and the slipperiness of floppy discs, so I accidentally turned in the the draft before the final draft which still makes my stomach queasy), there were a lot of consulting firms and banks lurking around Davidson College making offers. A tiny person inside of me thought about that life of fabric covered cubicles, business clothes (hosiery every day!), water cooler chats, staff fridges, and mounting tiers of domestic furniture bliss from Ikea to Crate & Barrel to Bloomingdales. I thought about conference calls, meetings, and using words like "actualizing" and "potentialities." I thought about the Gorgias and how this job was the job of the soldier who might one day be a ruler and I gave the banks my answer. And thus, I gave myself a 90% pay cut, took a few illuminating detours through grad school for a few years, and heard the call to my best life at the Old Time tent at Merlefest back in the early 2000's where we'll be playing next spring.

I still think about the Gorgias quite a lot which suggests that my thesis, though flawed as a scholarly paper, actually served as a culmination of my learning and a pushing forward into my own future thinking about what is the best life. I imagine not everyone feels that way about their thesis, so I feel lucky about that.

I feel lucky to be here at all, lucky to be freely crossing the country in a reliable vehicle with plenty of food and water on a mission to create and share art. What a luxury. What a luxury to consider what is the best life when I turn on the news everyday and hear of people living in fear, fleeing war, homeless, despised, dispersed, and seeking relief, fighting for life.

It is my work as a poet to write and at times, like when I think of refugees and homelessness, my job can feel frivolous. But I also realize that stories are the mighty connectors between people - electrical stardust maps of our search for the best life for us all. That's what I intend my stories to be - cosmic scotch tape between you and me. So, I am going to make reports, long and short, and I look forward to hearing what you say.

Let's travel together and see what we see.

Monday, March 28, 2016

New posters from my scribbles!

So chuffed about these posters that Peter Knipe made with my scribbles! 
Jeni & Billy Concerts hosted by Chris Lee
Filey, The Coffee Shed, 13 May
Beverley, St Mary's Parish Hall, 4 June
Scarborough, Woodend Gallery, 2 July

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Mingling with Stardust

For you, Uncle Willard. You've been winking at us from the stars for a little more than a year now.
Dr. Robert (Bob) John Manning (1942-2015) asked me to call him Uncle Willard because I had known his family since I was three or four years old and had taken up residence in the apartment above his wood shop. “Dr. Manning” seemed a bit formal for old friends. Dr. Manning was a professor of Physics, Astronomy, Classical Mathematics, and Humanities at Davidson College in North Carolina. He was also the chair of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies where I created my major in Classical Political Philosophy.
Song for Uncle Willard: Scientist, Philosopher, and Mentor
© Jeni Hankins 2015

If I could live in your study,
and read every book that you owned,
I might find a note in the margins –
a theorem of where you have flown.

‘Cause I’d like conjecture,
I’d like to work you into my proof,
and offer you a hypothesis
on how much I will miss you.

Add a girl who ran down the stairs
wearing two crȇpe paper wings.
Subtract any frowns, if she chanced to fall down,
‘cause we never dwelled on those things.

Add a thimble of stardust to share
to the power of three Yogi Berras.
Divide any doubts ’til the proof shakes on out.
Je pense, donc je suis and etcetera.

I hear you are mingling with stardust,
which proves that Fermat was correct.
Solutions we find are not always kind
when we wish they were magic instead.

Are you up there with tireless angels
moving the spheres all around?
I’ll be right here, sweeping sawdust and tears
’til your famous last theorem is found.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Days of the Week

Things from my room at home: A tea towel embroidered and cross-stitched by Mawmaw Margie. I still love days-of-the-week tea towels and I use a set at home. Yes, and when I was a kid I was crazy about days of the week underoos (or smalls, as you might say, if hanging them on the airer in Britain). I suppose some candidates are wearing their lucky Tuessday underoos today and hoping for a Happy Tuesday!

Monday, March 21, 2016

First Jeni & Billy concert photo!


Oh my!! Our first official Jeni & Billy show back in 2008. We were so serious back then, too. Just look at those dour expressions. Thank you, Jill, for the photo!!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Sailing to North Carolina

Jeep repaired (at criminal expense!), passed inspection and emissions (glee), and, tomorrow, I am away to North Carolina tomorrow to do the packaging for the new CD with Dad! This is one of my favorite things about being an indy artist! I love designing the CD packaging and all of the stuff that goes with it. And I get to put my art degree to good use (Thanks, Moravian College). Pretty jazzed! Billy shall use his highly developed ears to mix and master the record while I am gone. So, Jeni & Billy Land will have a new CD very soon! Hoping for smooth sailing in the Jeep. I've got lots of friends' records to keep me company – another fab thing about this work we do! And, of course, I also have some stellar "mixed tapes" kindly sent all the way from a fan in the UK (Peter Knipe! Thank you!). That's a bunch of exclamation points, but I can't help myself.(!)

Antique boat art from our Valentine's Day visit to the Nashville Antiques and Garden Show. I think it was $5 bazillion dollars, so we didn't buy it :) But I LOVED seeing all of these things which belong to the Museum of Life :)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Merry melodica

Will it be the melodica? Finding Le mot juste of instruments.

Mystery Lady

Want to know more about these folks and song that this woman inspired? Head on over to Mawmaw's Golden Biscuit Club and become our patron. She's the star of our March Song & Story of the Month.

Here's what we've been able to do over the last 10 months thanks to our patrons:

Replace a portable recorder that went on the fritz at a crucial moment on tour. We have since used it for field recordings, documenting live shows, and on recordings for the new album.

Replace worn out cables in our touring kit.

Tune both of our pianos for the recording sessions.

Buy extra long cables that allowed us to separate our noisy Mac Pro CPU and it’s whirring fan from the control room in our home studio. We’ve recorded several pieces for our new record in the newly quiet (except when the ice cream truck goes down the street) control room.

Repair the AC in Mr. Tomato right when we were getting ready to head out into the desert. Ahhhh, thank you.

This all matters bunches to us and ensures that we stay on the road and create more music! Together, we are mighty! Thanks y’all!

Button makers

I love that my job involves things like a button-maker and a magnet-making machine! Fan Club buttons for one year patrons going out starting in April. Join up and hear a song from our new record, plus the piano version, and the kitchen counter demo.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Microcassettes and Artistic Independence

You know what's great about making our own record? Complete creative freedom. No record company or management team to tell us that there's no commercial potential in this record, telling us they don't smell money (as was famously said in "Inside Llewyn Davis"). Being a freelance, totally independent, and working-class musician means the recent news about an expensive (when are they cheap?) car repair has a more significant impact on our day than it might for a big pop star. But on the other hand, finding a micro cassette recording I made of my great grandmother weeks before she passed away, and being my own boss, means I can put it on the record if I want to. Artistic freedom is one of the most important things in my life. I am glad Billy and I have fans and friends who love what we make and who need no taste-makers to decide for them. Together we are mighty!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Patchwork Pinwheel

I've been making lots of patchwork pillows for Merlefest and our tour in Britain. Very nice to do during the long hours of editing and mixing the record! Sewing is such a wonder. I can sew almost anywhere! How grateful I am to my sewing mentors who have taught me since the days when I was sewing yarn into a pre-punched cardboard picture with a big plastic needle.

The Forsaken Inn

How fantastic to always be learning! Did you know that Anna Katherine Green of Brooklyn, New York, was the “Mother of the Detective Novel”? Me either! But I chanced to read her “ The Forsaken Inn,” a brisk gothic tale complete with a secret chamber and an ominous trunk. 

Green’s work pre-dates that of both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. And her meddlesome lady, Amelia Butterworth, was the prototype for Miss Marple and a whole host of nosy and knowledgeable women who get to the bottom of dastardly deeds. 

As a kid I devoured Trixie Belden and Encyclopedia Brown. As a twenty-something, I watched every Miss Marple and Poirot to be watched. But I have certainly had a dearth of detective fiction in my life since then. So, this was a fine way to get going again and how wonderful that Green wrote in the late 1800s and early 1900s – my favorite era of fiction. 

Of course, our friends in Britain will be way ahead of me on this because Green’s Violet Strange – the first “girl detective” – made an appearance in BBC Radio 4’s “The Rivals.”

Apparently, Green’s mysteries set all kinds of conventions still employed by fictional sleuths today and she was known for being very particular about getting legal details correct. I can’t understand why I’d never heard of her before. I am probably just last to the party and everyone else has read everything she wrote.

I must go catch up!

I found “The Forsaken Inn” by accident on Project Gutenberg which now has a fab reading app for Apple devices and Android called “Gutenberg Books.” That way I can keep all of my Project Gutenberg books in one app! How lovely.

Free on Kindle, too. 

Or you can also buy a used paper copy that you can hold in your hands at for a cheap and cheerful price. I saw a first edition in somewhat poor shape for about $18, but tons of paperback reading copies for $8 and up.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Late night thoughts

Sometimes we are supposed to be going to bed, but we get an idea & start moving microphones into place...

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Singing day

Today, I get to be the ballad singer in Seuss socks. Still drinking my Lady Grey decaf in my Jane Austen mug. Lots of tea keeps the home studio happening.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Engineering Gal

Guess who is engineering the recording session today? Billy is downstairs playing my family piano -- it's first time being recorded. Back to work!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Two Books by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Review of The Home-maker and The Brimming Cup: I’ve just read two wonderful books by Dorothy Canfield Fisher – The Home-Maker and The Brimming Cup. Fisher was an extraordinary person who brought Montessori-type child rearing to the USA through translating Montessori books, oversaw the first adult education program in the USA, and also influenced what America read through her role in the Book of the Month Club for 26 years. That alone sounds like enough of a to-do list for one person, but she also wrote 22 novels and 11 works of nonfiction.  And she spoke five languages.

The two novels that I’ve read by her are excellent. They drive headlong into the conventions of marriage (or life partnership) and all that community and roots bring to bear on the intimate life of a family. Her novels are unsentimental, fearless, generous, and provoking. She has a beautiful way of telling stories through multiple perspectives and interior monologue. Both of the novels start out sleepy enough, setting the scene, but I could feel the crises brewing in each, and I was glued to the pages while wondering how everything would turn out.

You can find The Brimming Cup at Project Gutenberg as a free download for your e-reader.

You can find The Home-Maker used at in the USA and from the marvelous people at Persephone Books in the UK.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Aunt Irma

Singing a song about my Aunt Irma and thinking about gingerbread. I never knew Aunt Irma, but Mawmaw Ann told me all about her gingerbread. How grateful I am for the storytellers in my life!