Station to Station is California visual artist Doug Aitken‘s baby: a nomadic happening that started in NYC and ended in San Francisco, where the train became a moving platform for artistic experimentation. We stopped in big cities like Chicago and Los Angeles and also more remote locations like Raton, New Mexico, and Barstow, California. The trip was an exquisite corpse of constantly changing locations, musicians, artists, journalists and travelers crossing the country. Passengers spent one day on the train, the next at the event, alternating every day for almost a month.
I was brought onto the project a few months before it started, to help curate the music, which included bringing on cult icons like Patti Smith, Suicide and the Congos, to lesser known acts like THEESatisfaction and Sun Araw, to local bands such as Bloodbirds, The Conquerors from Kansas City and the Handsome Family and Brute Heart from Minneapolis. They were invited to sing at one or multiple stops and also to come on the train for a leg of the journey and record original or existing material in the recording car while the train chugged along to the next city. Here are my five favorite people I met along the way.
1. CAT POWER
Chan was really endearing. She came on the train for a few stops from Santa Fe to Barstow, and played both of those cities as well as Winslow. She sang a cover of the Stooges “I Wanna Be Your Dog” at her first show in New Mexico, which took me a few seconds to place as it was so out of context, but awesome. She uses this pedal, I think it’s the TC Helicon Vocal processor, to get all these auto-tuned harmonies which is really different and a great use of auto tune. As we have learned from Cher or Posh Spice, it can also go the other way!
I first met Chan in the reception at La Posada, the hotel we were staying at in Winslow, Arizona, where they were selling lots of Native American jewelry. She had two boxes of rings sprawled out on the counter and was trying them all on. The next day on the train she showed me what she’d bought and I’d be surprised if she’d left any rings at the store. She had bought about 60, so I asked her to fit as many on as possible for the picture. She later asked me if I wanted one of her rings that she thought would suit me. It was a coral, centipede-looking one, but rings make me feel really claustrophobic so I declined as I knew she loved it.
2. TIM KOH
Tim Koh: Tim’s the bass player in Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. We bonded instantly. I met him in my hotel lobby on our first day in New York and he accompanied me for Chinese dumplings round the corner, even though he’d just eaten lunch. We were pretty inseparable until he had to leave in Kansas City. He had this tiny bag of clothes but made it appear that he was wearing a new outfit every day of the two weeks he was with us. I’m not sure how he managed it.
I loved it when Tim braided his hair as it made him look like Tiger Lily from Peter Pan, especially when he painted his finger nails different colors and wore effeminate clothing. He has great fashion sense and since we got off the train he’s shot a campaign for Levi’s, Station to Station’s sponsor, which is amazing as he’s a perfect fit for them.
Giorgio is one of my heroes. I’m obsessed with his song Chase from the movie Midnight Express. He won an Academy Award for the soundtrack in 1979, his first of three Oscars. Since his appearance on Daft Punk’s album, Random Access Memories, he’s been making a huge comeback and I’m so happy we were able to track him down for Station to Station. Doug and I were at Xavier Veilhan’s art opening at the Sheats Goldstein Residence, this amazing Lautner-designed house in Beverly Hills. Just as we were leaving, Veilhan told us it was a shame we’d just missed Giorgio Moroder.
Doug and I couldn’t believe our luck as we’d been trying to track him down for months. Giorgio’s son, Alessandro, is an artist and had been working for Veilhan, and so he put us in touch with Giorgio and his charming wife Francisca, and they both came to Doug’s Venice Studio to meet with us and talk about the project. Giorgio is touring like crazy now and he’s starting to produce albums again so I think we caught him just before his schedule blew up. Giorgio came on the train with Francisca, Alessandro and Donna Summer’s widower, Bruce Sudano. Giorgio and Bruce wrote and recorded a song from scratch on the train from Santa Fe to Winslow which they called Willoughby. They performed it the following day in Winslow and I sang in the makeshift “train choir” for the last chorus of the live performance. It was hilarious.
Kim is the co-founder of Paper Magazine, which remarkably has been going strong since 1984. I met Kim in the Levis car in the lead up to their daily 5:01 happy hour, on our way from Winslow to Barstow. We sat on the couch chatting about music and how amazing the food in San Francisco is, while waiting for the onslaught of tequila and vodka cocktails. Kim, like me, has her finger in lots of pies and we talked for hours as the landscape rolled past. I was telling her I have an events company called Tea ‘n Crumpet and she dropped in that she, too, has an events and branding division of Paper Communications called Extra Extra.
I mentioned I’m a DJ and she too dabbles in that for fun. I told Kim I loved her style and she revealed the history of her green linen outfit. She used to spend hours perfecting her look every time she stepped out the house but soon came to the revelation that it was much easier to wear a uniform. Being greatly inspired by Isaac Mizrahi and Yohji Yamamoto, Kim had her friend David Wilson replicate a design she loved in dozens of different fabrics and colors. She is now a creature of comfort, sticking to different amalgamations of the same design: hot taffeta for dressy; khaki linen for summer; navy wool for winter; and floral print and chartreuse or turquoise linen for when she wants to switch it up. She has adorned this “Mao Suit” with her signature glasses and sneakers for the last twenty years.
5. DOUG AITKEN
I met Doug working on Station to Station and we immediately became friends. He has awesome taste in music and is probably the only person I will ever work with with the creative vision to have both Suicide and Giorgio Moroder headline such large-scale events. I’m amazed that Doug and his team pulled off the huge feat that Station to Station is.
As I was working on the music side of the project, I didn’t have a clue how many elements were involved. We were bombarded with surprise additions every day of the journey, as Doug had done tons of advance research in each city and incorporated local gems at every stop, such as a pop-up show right next to the tracks at Kansas City’s Union Station, where two local bands – who’ve probably never been heard of anywhere outside of their home town – performed with Eleanor Friedberger. In Santa Fe, Doug recruited two female flamenco dancers who loved performing so much they drove themselves on to Winslow. In Chicago, a girl and boy played a hand-clapping game called Slide, thus named because of the very first move, when you draw your hands against each other, before you clap.
There was a level of spontaneity that had to be really well managed and performers pulled out and in at the very last minute. Charlotte Gainsbourg withdrew a few days before the opening night but in turn Suicide and Mavis Staples confirmed at the eleventh hour. Ariel Pink did an impromptu solo set in St. Paul, which Doug had his team locate dry ice for, turning it into a spectacle, much helped by my bright red sunglasses and Mara’s bunches.
Doug is every inch a Californian. I love how he ends his emails with “Peace” as it sounds like he’s a stoner even though he barely drinks. He does surf, though, which may explain his surfer-dude energy, despite the fact he manages to achieve more in a day than most. His house in Venice is one big instrument. You can play his table like a marimba and each stair leading up to the first floor sounds a different note. He went so far as to imbed nine geological microphones in the house’s foundation. They amplify tectonic plate movements as well as the tides, a block away, and street traffic, half that.