Saturday, April 24, 2004

Lit at Both Ends

If my great great grandfather and her great great grandfather hadn't died horrible deaths Kari Newhouse and I never would have met.

Artist's rendering of the Sultana disaster.The date was April 27, 1865... 2 am in the morning. My great, great grandfather was a Union guard on board the Sultana - a sidewheel steamboat that was heading north on the Mississippi. The ship was overcrowded with over 2,000 passengers, mostly soldiers who had recently been released from grueling Southern prison camps like Andersonville and Cahaba. One of these ex-POWs was Kari's great, great grandfather. I imagine both were sleeping, dreaming of home, when one of the ship's boilers exploded in a fireball that tore the ship in two. Scores of sleeping soldiers were blown to bits, or catapulted through the air. Those that survived found themselves in the unrelenting current of the swollen Mississippi River. The ship, made of lightweight wood and heavy iron, was a floating, flaming casket. Most of the soldiers couldn't swim, and there was barely a lifeboat aboard. Most had to choose between jumping into the icy river and drowning, or burning to death. By dawn over 1500 men were dead or unaccounted for. It remains the greatest maritime disaster in American history.

I first met Kari's mom, Pam Newhouse, at an annual reunion of descendants of the Sultana disaster five years ago in Knoxville, TN. She was known as one of the experts on the tragedy, and I'd been buttering her up a little because I was researching the Sultana as a film project (and work on still today). When Pam heard I worked occasionally for MTV, she told me her daughter was a musician and that she'd get me a CD. I explained that I really couldn't do much... MTV just airs videos, it doesn't make them... and barely airs videos at that... but mostly said this because I expected that her daughter's demo would suck. Alas, I was blown away by what I heard - some great rock/alternative tunes... really, really good music. I was an instant fan. Months later, Pam tells me Kari is moving to L.A... and it turns out that she's only moving a few blocks from my apartment in West Los Angeles.

We finally meet in July 2000, and make an instant bond. We get a along great. I haven't had a girlfriend for years, and hope that it turns into something bigger... but - I feel no spark. Bummer. But, awesome friend. One night when we're hanging out at her apartment - she's drinking an Amstel Light, I've got a Coke - she comments how amazing it is that almost 150 years ago our grandfather's were on a boat together... and now here we were.

Anyway, I helped Kari find some work, and book a few shows around town. She introduced me to Claire.

Tonight I got to introduce Kari Newhouse and band as they performed for the record release party of her new CD, "Lit at Both Ends". Kari always sounds great... tonight was better than ever. She even gave away customized lighters as a promo item. Neat stuff.

Anyway... check out her site, listen to a few tunes, and order her album. Awesome stuff. And when she grabs a Grammy, you can say you heard it here first.

And it all started with our great grandfather's agonizing deaths.