If you’ve been following this blog of late, then you know this author’s year started off with a few bangs… not the least of which involved me splitting my head open on cold concrete. Bang. Bang, indeed. In the first few months of 2017, I also shaved off all of my hair, released an album, baked my first cake, and, most recently, followed the ill-fated trail of the Donner Party on a two-week research and songwriting expedition.
The above-mentioned head injury, while startling, was more of a costly inconvenience than anything serious. I fell after a bout of lightheadedness, which was brought about by sitting in a hot tub too dang long and then standing up too dang quickly. The staples that the emergency room punched into my forehead have since been removed and the wound is healing nicely. When the mirror fog clears, a Y-shaped scar will likely remain on me noggin, but otherwise I’m right as rain.
Isn’t the ease with which our bodies can both fail and recover amazing? If only our egos were as evolved.
In March, shortly after breaking my head, I also broke my baking cherry. At the time, had you asked me what was more likely to induce a faceplant, bakin’ a cake or steppin’ out of a jacuzzi, my money would have been on the cake… but my Betty Crocker inauguration went surprisingly without incident (although I did have help in the kitchen from my writing partner in crime, Saar Hendelman, who was very gentle since he knew it was my first time).
Saar and I baked the cake in question to celebrate the one-year anniversary of our latest artistic affair, American Murder Song, a collection of original murder ballads set in 1816 America. In the spirit of the project’s historical themes, we baked a historical dessert, a Georgian Bride cake. The whole hilarious cake-baking incident is on American Murder Song‘s Official FaceBook Page. Be sure to “like” us there to be included in all future food fights. You’ll also get updates on lots of good murder music.
During American Murder Song‘s anniversary livestream, we also announced the theme of the project’s next phase: the Donner Party. Shortly after sharing this news, Saar and I were presented with a traveling opportunity where we could follow the path of the famous 1846 expedition. We of course jumped at the chance.
The journey began when we were invited to perform a private show in Carbondale, Colorado, a picturesque town near Aspen. The show was a themed going away party—an “American Wake”—for Laurie Neufeld. Laurie was leaving her longtime home in Colorado to begin a new life adventure in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and she was gracious enough to ask Saar and I to help send her off in style.
The show was as an intimate gathering in a one-room historic classroom on a mountain. The evening, setting and company were beautiful (thank you, Laurie!). As a bonus, we got to drive over three-hundred miles through Colorado with a rented wooden coffin strapped to the roof of Saar’s SUV. Yep, that’s how we roll.
Following Laurie’s Wake, the plan was for Saar and I to head north to Wyoming, north to Devil’s Gate. There, we would begin our Donner journey.
Devil’s Gate is a landmark along the Donner Party’s trek. They passed this epic split in the mountain not too long before things started going bad for them. Really bad. Unfortunately for us, we inherited some of the luck of the Donner’s: the steep and windy grades of the Rocky Mountains did a number on poor Saar’s transmission. His SUV died, and our journey was almost cancelled before it began.
Thankfully, Saar and I were able to shack up with longtime friends Betsy Perez and Will Weyer at their new home in Boulder while we dealt with Saar’s vehicle repairs. We ended up having his four-wheeled steed towed back to Los Angeles, which was surprisingly cheaper and quicker than having it repaired in Colorado.
Instead of returning home with Saar’s vehicle, we rented a minivan—a super-hip soccer mom chariot—and resumed our Donner Party adventure. As a bonus, the extra day in Colorado allowed us a visit to The Stanley Hotel, the infamous lodging that inspired the Overlook Hotel featured in Stephen King’s 1977 bestseller The Shining.
From Devil’s Gate, we endeavored to visit all of the noteworthy locations where the members of the Donner Party lived, fought and died on their harrowing journey west.
On-foot, dragging oxen and wagons, the Donner Party walked from Independence, Missouri to Sacramento, California. For the survivors, this was a year-long journey. For Saar and I, in our modern wagon, the adventure lasted a week.
Although brief by Donner standards, our trek was one of the best road trips I’ve ever taken. The scenery was beautiful and inspiration was ever-present. We made huge creative leaps with American Murder Song, discovered lots of new music on our extended drives, and connected with old friends.
Like the Donner Party, we also got our wagon stuck in the mud (which required an expensive tow truck rescuing) and took help from a “Indian guide” at a Utah state park (although unlike the Donner Party, we didn’t kill and eat our Native American scout).
We also followed our American Murder Song Compass, which we kept on the dashboard of our rented coach for the entire adventure. Each day, we would film snippets of the compass in front of the majestic and ever-changing scenery just beyond the windshield.
Our plan is to edit together a music video of all of this Compass footage, almost like a time-lapse Compass POV of our journey west. We’ll post this video when its ready, but in the meantime you can visit American Murder Song‘s FaceBook page and watch the various livestreams that we broadcast along the adventure. We also have a lot of photos of the trek on our Official Instagram Account. Be sure to Follow us there.
The Compass in part of a limited edition American Murder Song Box Set, which includes two CDs and a DVD documentary. The second and final batch of these beauties came in this week. For those of you have been waiting for your Compass orders, everything’s in the mail and en route to you now (thank you for your patience with our shipping delay). For everyone else, there are a few Box Sets left (we only manufactured 1500 of these numbered goods), so be sure to get yours before they’re gone. Your support helps ensure that our little murder project continues.
To order your Compass Box Set, visit: https://americanmurdersong.com/product/compass-box-sette/