Do my thoughts affect reality?

Milner Hotel, Detroit, interior room

You can wear your shoes in bed at the Milner Hotel!

A short excursion on the power of mental images

If I ever doubt that the emotionally-charged images I hold in my thoughts can create my future reality, all I have to do is look back at the Ten Year Bender period. Three images that manifested with an eerie degree of precision:

Image 1: Bluesman, downtown hotel

Remember how I said that Elmore Leonard inspired me to want to live in Detroit? As I got deeply into blues music and the Beat writers, especially Kerouac, in my early 20s, that image turned into a vibrant collage that I can still picture clearly:

I’m living in a rented room in a flophouse hotel next to the railroad tracks. Maybe it’s an elevated section of the subway, because the train is actually rolling by outside my upper floor window. I’m poor, but I’m proud of it because I moved here to radically change my life. I’m playing my guitar, learning the real blues. Sometimes I’m typing on my manual typewriter. Through the open window I can smell the exhaust from the cars and trucks on the street below. A breeze ruffles the dirty, threadbare curtains and cools the sweat on my face…

In between living in Kyle’s basement and finding my carriage house in Indian Village, I lived for a couple months at the Milner Hotel on Centre Street downtown. The room was saturated with the smell of years-old cigarette smoke and cooking grease. The walls felt slightly sticky to the touch and I never sat on the twin bed unless I was fully clothed. (The staff were actually quite kind and the sheets were clean but everything else was a little scary as far as hygiene goes.) My co-tenants were old drunks, junkies, crazy people, traveling salesmen, and other people, like me, who were perhaps less-easily definable: souls in transition from somewhere to somewhere else.

Image 2: Leslie’s House, Highland Park

In the dream that ultimately convinced me that my soul wanted me to move to Detroit, I saw myself in an upstairs room in Detroit. The room was sparsely furnished but open and clean, with a bed on top of an old rug forming an island in the middle of the hardwood floor. Papers, some of them containing only words and some with artist drawings, were scattered across the comforter on the bed and on the floor. I was on my knees near the bed, trying to organize the papers and put them together so they made sense. Kyle, my artist friend, came into the room and was standing near the door talking to me.

By the time Lupo had finished mixing the songs on Ten Year Bender and had sent them off to his old bandmate Dave Laney for mastering, I was renting a room from Miss Leslie, a beautiful, sweet lady I’d met while working at the juice bar in Dr. Bob’s Innate Chiropractic center on Woodward at 6 Mile.

I stayed on an army cot in the basement at Dr. Bob’s for a while, then briefly lived with a girlfriend. When that relationship ran its course, I was about to be homeless again. Leslie had compassion on me and offered to rent me a room in her house in Highland Park.

I didn’t see the similarities to my dream at the time – I was very focused on survival and trying to regain some sense of agency in my life – but a couple years later it clicked. As I was preparing for my record release party in November 2003, I unwittingly recreated the scene from my dream. Same type of room, upstairs in an old house in Detroit. Papers, some with words and some with images, were scattered across the bed and on the floor as I took the stacks of lyric sheets and liner notes I’d had printed at Kinko’s and arranged them into the booklets that would hold the CD. As far as Kyle coming into the room at the end of the dream? His painting Soul Mining, the painting we used on the cover of the 2015 re-release, was the art for the very last page of the 2003 booklet.

Image 3: 2714 Burgundy St.

talent lyric sheet Ten Year Bender album

The house, from the lyric sheet to Talent (Help Me).

This one may be the weirdest manifestation. In the late 90s and early ’00s, my friend the Colonel lived in a house on Burgundy Street in the Faubourg Marigny in New Orleans. We had some amazing times based out of that house – and at least one epic disaster. During the two greatest JazzFests of my life (including the 2000 edition, which to my mind was the last truly great New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival), 2714 Burgundy was home base.

It’s also where I wrote the song Talent (Help Me). And as I was designing the liner notes for the 2003 record, I added a sketch of the house to the lyric sheet for that song.

The Colonel had already moved out to the Lakefront by that time. I had no desire and no reason to believe I would ever set foot in that house again. But lo and behold, when my  tour to support the album finally crashed and burned in New Orleans in the spring of 2004, I found myself living in the ‘landlord apartment’ in the back of the house. Turns out the Colonel had agreed to manage the property as a favor to the owner.

I spent the next year scraping, sanding and painting that big old double shotgun house by hand. I worked through a lot of resentment in and on that house. But I did a hell of a job. Whenever I drive or bike down Burgundy on the way to my daughter’s house, I sneak a peek at the sides of the house. After (you guessed it) ten years, that paint job still looks as strong as the day I finished it.


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