BLACK VELVET POSTCARD: "I was there the night Dylan went electric and the only thing I remember is my sister and me sitting in the back of the van eating all of the marshmallow things out of a box of Lucky Charms," Caitlin von Schmidt told me casually one night while we were looking for something worth watching on TV.
"That's all you remember?" I asked.
"I was a kid!" she replied.
Von Schmidt grew up in the folk circuit of the '60s, daughter of folk guitarist Eric von Schmidt, whose album cover is sitting next to Bob Dylan on the cover of his album Bringing It All Back Home. Throughout her childhood her father had tried to encourage his eldest daughter to play music, without success.
"He gave me every stringed instrument there was hoping that I would play," von Schmidt recalls, "except the bass."
There was also the matter of being painfully shy. Her father would tell her later how it broke his heart to see her off in a corner when company was present, leaving her little sister Megan to solo in the limelight.
"My mom said I wasn't that bad, but I do remember feeling that way," she remembers.
In addition to music, von Schmidt grew up around visual arts and literature. Her mother teaches classes in English, film and American literature at Amherst University. Her paternal grandfather was the renowned illustrator Harold von Schmidt, most famous for his serial Tugboat Annie and for having illustrated the first edition of Death Comes to the Archbishop, by Willa Cather. Her father inherited his father's artistic talents and is also well-known as a painter and illustrator.
So, her own creativity was realized early on?
"No," she laughs, "After majoring in elementary education for two years at U Mass, I decided to major in Racetrack Management and that's how I ended up moving to Tucson. Like all girls, I was into horses."
In 1980, she got off the bus and checked into the Tucson Inn with little more than the jeans and black T-shirt she was wearing. Soon after, she found a roommate and moved out of her temporary residence on Drachman Street.
"Her name was Les Janega. She had moved here from Hawaii, where she had been in a Tahitian dance troupe that performed for conventions and businessmen."
She was also a cowgirl who tried to teach the two-step to von Schmidt.
"I think I could do it for about a week and that was it."
Von Schmidt credits Janega for introducing her to the local music scene.
"She had a Sex Pistols album and one by Adam and the Ants. We would listen to them and get all hyped up to go out. I had never been to a bar in my life before I moved here."
Those were the days--or more accurately, the nights--of the Backstage, Night Train and sometimes shows at seedy downtown bars like Pearl's Hurricane and The Manhattan. Tucson authored its own version of punk and the music scene exploded. There was something going on every night back then, and each one was an event. Caitlin began meeting more people, many of whom were, not surprisingly, musicians.
"I met Sean Murphy at Roads to Moscow and had a crush on him that lasted about two days, or until I met his girlfriend, Rose, who became one of my best friends. I couldn't have a crush on him after that."
Caitlin and Rose moved into a two-bedroom place near the corner of Speedway and Tyndall Avenue, which became the site of many parties. The once-famous and the soon-to-be famous mingled with the local talent after shows were over. Von Schmidt became fast friends with the members of Camper Van Beethoven, who stopped in whenever they played Tucson.
Chris Holliman taught her a few things on the bass and she took it from there. Sometime around 1984, she and Chris formed the River Roses along with guitarist Gene Ruley and drummer Rob Brett. Peter Catalanotte would show up and play tambourine at their shows, eventually assuming Rob's duties as drummer. As further acknowledgment of her newly discovered talents, Camper Van Beethoven covered her song "Black Velvet Postcard" in a live performance.
Around 1987, Caitlin fell in love with an artist and left the band to move to New York to be with him. It didn't last.
She returned to Tucson in 1990 and recorded her album Fish for San Jacinto Records. Bartles & James provided an infusion of inspiration and Caitlin recorded the three bonus tracks sans shirt. She kept her bra on. It was around this time she began to put together her new band, Caitlin and the Stickponies, with her friends Julia Mueller and Peter Catalanotte. Sean Murphy, who had replaced her when she left the River Roses, was added after a few personnel changes.
Five years and an untold number of shows later, von Schmidt is packing her bags to head home (to New Hampshire), with a BFA from the UA in hand. Is music in her future?
"My dad has already lined up a show for us in upstate New York in April. I'll probably do something, but I don't see myself doing the van tour, and I don't know how you can promote yourself without being willing to do that. I don't think that anybody does anything for the sheer pleasure of it except for sex, and I've never really understood the business side of music.
"I want to get married, have some kids and a nice house. You don't have to go on a van tour to be an illustrator, and it will help me to focus on a direction."
Caitlin says that she will miss Target, Magic Carpet Golf, Jack In The Box and free shows at Club Congress. Any parting words?
"It's been swell."
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