A few weeks ago, kind of on a whim, I reached out to a local musician and asked if he’d be willing to talk about a recent vacation he’d taken to Gettysburg. It went well. I enjoyed hearing about something that he was insanely passionate about, and I think he enjoyed, for a change, talking at length about something other than his music, although we talked a bit about that as well. And, as often happens, that first good interview spawned another, which, in turn, has given rise to the one that you are about to read. Today’s interview is with Ypsilanti-based singer-songwriter Misty Lyn Bergeron… So, if you haven’t already, cue up a few of her songs, settle in, and prepare to go on a “spiritual quest” from the barren, windy hellscape of Wyoming to the humbling redwood forests of the California coast, with a few stops for Grey Goose martinis out of hotel cups along the way.
MARK: What’s your name? Where do you live? And how would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t had the opportunity to hear it firsthand?
MISTY LYN: My name is Misty Lyn Bergeron, I live in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and that last one is my least favorite question in the world. It makes me sweat for some reason. The easy, but not always accurate answers may include Americana, American roots music, indie folk, or my least favorite, folk rock (ew).
MARK: Maybe there’s a better way to get at the same thing as I do these in the future. Instead of asking, “How would you describe your music?”, I could ask something like, “What, in your opinion, is the best verse you’ve ever written?” If I were to have asked you that instead, how would you have responded?
MISTY LYN: To be completely honest, it induces the same stress. I mean, I just don’t think about these things! To answer it feels a little like I’m lying, or at the very least, not being very sincere. A more comfortable question for me might be, “Is there a line or verse that you’ve written that people seem to really love or grab onto enough to tell you about it?” Something like that. I’ve also always loved answering, and reading answers to, questions about the writing process.
MARK: OK, let’s try again… Is there a line or verse that you’ve written that people seem to really love or grab onto enough to tell you about it?
MISTY LYN: Relentless! OK. Yes, I have a song on our second record called “Samuel”. The song itself gets a really good response from fans and musicians, but there’s one verse people gravitate to. I feel strongly that it’s best served in context, and with the melody, but here it is:
Mary’s gone, dead in the ground
Scattered roses all around
Marigolds and daisies white
Her favorite color: September light
MARK: And do you remember writing that verse, what was going on in your life at the time, etc?
MISTY LYN: It was indirectly inspired by John Steinbeck’s East of Eden character, Sam Hamilton. That book might be my favorite of all time (so far!). I was fascinated by Sam’s ability to remain cheerful and kind when life handed him shit deal after shit deal. That’s sort of what the song’s about. Follow that link above if you want to have a listen.
MARK: Let’s start at the beginning… What’s the first vacation that you remember? It doesn’t have to be a fully-formed, complete memory. It can just be a little sliver of a memory. A smell. A feeling. A single image.
MISTY LYN: That would be this crazy vacation that my family took to Washington D.C. and Virginia Beach when I was probably around 6 years old. My parents and my older sister and I in our green and gold conversion van. All I remember about it is my parents arguing even as we were pulling out of the driveway to start the trip, a cute pink Virginia Beach halfie t-shirt that they bought me, and getting sun poisoning so bad that I had to go to the doctor. I still have marks from it on my right leg. Fun!
MARK: How long did your parents keep the green and gold conversion van?
MISTY LYN: At least a few years. It came complete with a gun rack and a built-in cooler. Green and gold just so happened to be Garden City High School’s colors, so it was in the homecoming parade once, too!
MARK: Where were you born? And what, if anything, do you know about your birth story?
MARK: I don’t know that it’s weird. Most people, I think, have heard bits and pieces, though. In my case, I know my dad wasn’t around, as he was serving in the military, after having been drafted. According to my mom, she was completely knocked out, and I was extracted from her with forceps. When they brought me to her later, she pushed me away. “It’s not mine,” she said. “I haven’t had my baby yet.” I think it’s interesting to ask people how they came into the world. I guess I could ask about conception stories instead. (Bonus points if a conversion van factors into the narrative.)
MISTY LYN: Ha! That is hilarious! And no conception story either, thank God.
MARK: If you’d like for me to, I can contact your parents.
MISTY LYN: Tempting, but no.
MARK: And do I understand correctly that you have a recent vacation story to share with us?
MISTY LYN: Yes! I just fulfilled my dream of seeing the redwoods. My boyfriend Eli Eisman and I planned a two week long trip that was supposed to happen when he was done with his PhD. Turns out he had to finish editing his thesis while we were on the road, adding a whole level of crazy that I wasn’t prepared for. We also hit Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Big Sur, Las Vegas, and Zion National Park.
MARK: How long have you had this dream of walking among the redwoods?
MISTY LYN: As long as I can remember. I’ve always felt most at peace in nature, especially in the woods, and it just seemed like the ultimate spiritual quest.
MARK: So, did it live up to your expectations? Did you have a spiritual epiphany while among the Redwoods?
MISTY LYN: It exceeded my expectations. You just can’t know until you’re standing there what it’s like. I wouldn’t use the word epiphany, but it was certainly eye opening and awe inspiring. The audacity of humankind is represented by the fact that we chopped so many of them down for our own purposes before stopping and considering the scope of it. It seems so crazy to me that a human that will only be around for, say, 75 years, can kill something that outlives him by hundreds of years. The stupidity and selfishness of it is mind boggling. We’re doomed! Just kiddin’. I don’t believe that. But shit, do we have work to do.
MARK: I don’t know Eli, but, having known my share of PhDs, I can’t imagine a worse traveling companion than someone writing a dissertation. Was it as bad as I’m imagining it?
MISTY LYN: Oh, man. Maybe worse? It depends on the specific day, I guess. He had already defended and turned in his thesis, but his revisions were due. He had to write in the car and in coffee shops and every day/night in the hotel. He pulled two all-nighters. We only stopped in San Francisco to make sure we had great wifi… It definitely took over the trip a few times. But, at other times, he really amazed me with his ability to just be in the moment, like the day we hiked the redwoods at Humboldt State Park. He officially got his PhD in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. So, that’s pretty cool!
MARK: Did you do anything special in Carmel to celebrate?
MISTY LYN: Eli was so tired (he had been up for over 24 hours) that we had to take it pretty easy. We drove the Highway 1 for a while and then watched the sunset over the ocean. Then we drank Grey Goose martinis out of hotel cups.
MARK: Did you pay the extra money for the right to share the road with the rich citizens of Carmel and drive along the coast? We did, when we were out in California about a year ago, introducing our new son to his west coast relatives, as we really wanted to see the sealions, but I complained the whole way. I’m not a big fan of gated communities or private roads to begin with, but especially when they keep people from such beautiful natural experiences.
MISTY LYN: I know what you mean. For the first time in my life, because of this trip, I started questioning the idea of land ownership and started to realize how really ridiculous it is. I mean, really. This IS something I would describe as an epiphany. To see a house on top of a hill overlooking the ocean, surrounded by land that is closed in by barbed wire… it just seems absurd to me now. One person can tell ALL the other people (billions of people!), “Hey, you guys! This is MY ocean view! MY beach! I have more of this made up stuff called money, so it’s ok for me to claim little pieces of a planet that belongs to us all! Ha ha!” And then we all say, “Yeah. OK. That makes sense.” It’s so weird. But the idea is so huge that I try not to get too caught up in it. There is enough for everyone. Everyone should have enough. (Sigh.) I got so preachy right there! Didn’t know I had it in me… I’d better slow down on the Joseph Campbell/Bill Hicks consumption.
MARK: Is Eli’s field of study at least somewhat relevant to the trip… Like does he study old growth forests?
MISTY LYN: I wish! No, it’s Chemical Biology. Finding cheaper cures for malaria through the use of blue green algae, curing the buruli ulcer in Africa. You know, just basic stuff like that. Ha. (I’m SURE he would change what I just said to make it more accurate…)
MARK: Who knows… he could still amount to something. The scientist who discovered a way to make a taco shell out of a Dorito probably started her career doing entry-level stuff like that.
MISTY LYN: Oh, absolutely. I’m pretty sure his end goal is a job with a major fast food corporation.
MARK: Best meal of the trip? (I’d settle for most interesting.)
MISTY LYN: Most interesting would be Eli’s first burger ever. He’s been a vegetarian since childhood. He made up his mind before we left that he would have a burger at some point on this trip… I’m not sure why… moving into a new phase of his life, I guess. We happened upon this awesome hippie cafe on our way into Garberville, California. They had grass fed beef burgers. He loved it! (Later, he tried his first fast food burger at Wendy’s. We couldn’t find an In-N-Out burger. He tried to order it “medium” and completely baffled the gal behind the counter.)
MARK: Do you vacation often?
MISTY LYN: Not like this. Every year I make sure to visit Lake Michigan by myself for a couple days, but I haven’t taken a non-music related two weeks off of work in over a decade.
MARK: I’m curious as to why you make the “by myself” distinction. Why’s it important for you to be alone at Lake Michigan?
MISTY LYN: Being the introvert that I am, I need to be alone to recharge. To go somewhere alone for a couple days really helps me get back to center. I have a connection to that lake that’s hard to describe. I guess if I had to define “love,” I could say it’s the feeling I have when I’m looking at Lake Michigan. Talk about sounding like a hippie! Ha! But it’s TRUE. I’m just being honest. Watching the sunset over the Lake almost always brings me to tears. I’m always surprised to see those people on the beach completely ignoring the sunset… letting their kids scream and run around, playing with their phones, talking loud enough for everyone to hear. Can’t they see what’s happening?? Take TEN MINUTES to stop and take it in. Teach your kids to take it in. Or, at the very least, give ME ten minutes to take it in. Get off my lawn! …Clearly, I’m no Zen priest.
MARK: You’re starting to sound a lot like Matt when he’s talking about Gettysburg… I wonder if all musicians have places that make them weep.
MISTY LYN: Oh, I’d bet all artists have at least one place that makes them weep. Probably several. At least I hope so.
MARK: So, can we play a game?
MISTY LYN: Maybe.
MARK: OK. I’ll mention something, and then you tell me the first thing that pops into your head. Ready? …Zion!
MISTY LYN: Other-worldly beauty. Eli high-fiving everyone we saw saying, “I just got my PhD!” Vertigo… The one place we both keep bringing up and saying we need to go back to. When we started on the trail that we hiked, there was a sign that said, “Do not hike this trail if you have a fear of heights.” Sure enough, right at the beginning I had to sit down and gather myself before moving on. Zion is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I just wanted to touch everything on the trail. The rocks/mountains are hard to describe. The views were so huge and colorful. I was surprised at the amount of green in what I thought would be the desert. I just had this huge smile on my face the whole time we were there.
MARK: Salt Flats!
MISTY LYN: Like another planet! …On our way out we just happened to stop at a rest area right in the middle of the Bonneville Salt Flats. I had no idea anything like this place existed. The flats stretched out as far as you could see. We took our shoes off and walked out into the hot water. The ground under our feet was pure salt… sparkling and very sharp! Our hands and feet instantly turned white from touching the water. It was crazy awesome.
MISTY LYN: I love Big Love – it’s in my top-five TV shows of all time.
MISTY LYN: I have 2 songs about it!
MARK: Can you tell us about them?
MISTY LYN: The first one is called “Oh, Ypsilanti”. I wasn’t really feeling the vibe when I first moved here and this song represents that. The first line is “Oh, Ypsilanti, you’ve taken me hostage, please give me back all I had when I came”…so…yeah. The second one is called “Ypsi II” and contains the line, “Ypsilanti, you’ll always have my heart”, it’s a bit nicer and reflects how my feelings about this town have changed. It sort of says, “Hey Ypsi, you and your people are awesome, but I’m still prolly gonna leave.”
MARK: Assuming there’s someone in the audience who’s never been on a vacation, and they’re just getting ready to go on their first one, what kind of advice would you give them?
MISTY LYN: Don’t make too many definite plans! The best part of a trip like this is staying open to whatever draws your attention. You never know what you’re going to feel like doing when you’re out there, so stay open and flexible. And if you’re going to drive from Michigan to California, know that it is a VERY LONG WAY. Driving is definitely part of the fun, so don’t be in a hurry. And avoid Wyoming if at all possible, especially Rawlins. (Also know that if you’re going to be on California Highways 1 or 20, have some dramamine on hand or you WILL puke.)
MARK:What happened in Rawlins? Or shouldn’t I ask?
MISTY LYN: Well, to quote a friend, Wyoming is basically a “barren, windy hellscape.” The most exciting thing we saw there was a beat up Haliburton truck. I-80 cuts all the way across it, and Rawlins is the only town with hotels for miles. I’m pretty sure, if you’re running from the law, you stay for at least one night in Rawlins, Wyoming. It’s the dirtiest, most shady, most expensive shit hole you will ever find yourself having to stay in. A small piece of advice if you do find yourself having to stay there: If the guy (who’s clearly on heroin) behind the desk gives you a room that literally has dirt on the carpet, doors that won’t close, dirty sheets, and ripped and broken furniture (for the bargain price of $110!), make SURE you go insist on a better room. The difference will astound you!
MARK: Do you have “Before Complaint” and “After Complaint” photos that you can share?
MISTY LYN:I wish! That would be hilarious, but at the time I just wanted to forget all of it. The second room was clean and pretty newly remodeled. So weird. It still wasn’t worth half of what we paid for it.
MARK: Since you bring up “running from the law,” I’m curious to know if any laws were broken on this trip…
MISTY LYN: Other than speeding? Hmm. The valet at our hotel in San Francisco got us an $80 parking ticket, does that count? It took them a month to take care of it. Don’t stay at Hotel Fusion!
MARK: Would you ever go on a cruise?
MISTY LYN: Oh, God. My gut reaction is, HELL NO… but you might be able to persuade me if it was free – or if I happened to be the entertainment.
MISTY LYN: Their Alaskan line? Now you’re talking. Yes, I would do that, especially if there were artists going who I’d like to meet or share the stage with.
MARK: It would be you, Glen Campbell and the three surviving Hee Haw Honeys. And you wouldn’t be able to talk to Glen. It’s in his contract that he only leaves his cabin, which opens onto the stage, three times a day. He opens his door, strolls out, sings Rhinestone Cowboy, and then disappears into his cabin again… Are you still up for it?
MISTY LYN: Nope. Wait. How much am I getting paid?
MARK: I don’t have recent numbers, but I had a friend who played a cruise line about 20 years ago, and I could find out from him. As I recall, he actually had to use all the money he’d earned to get back home. He got off the boat one day, on an island somewhere, and didn’t get back on. He was young, and I guess he kind of discovered that he was in way over his head, so he took his upright bass and jumped ship. Apparently the musicians were pretty spectacular, and he didn’t feel as though he was up to it.
MISTY LYN: Ballsy to do all of that with an upright bass.
MARK: I know that was a weird tangent. I’m sorry. It’s just that I got a note from a reader a few days ago suggesting that I interview Iggy Pop about his experiences on cruises, assuming, I guess, that, when he sold Lust for Life to the Royal Caribbean cruise line, he got a free trip or two. Personally, I can’t imagine a vacation trapped on a boat full of tourists. When I travel, for the most part, I want to stay as far away from tourists as I can, and experience what places are really like, away from the t-shirt shops and buffet lines. I can see the appeal for the elderly, but I’d rather have a bit of adventure… or at least the possibility of adventure.
MISTY LYN: Agreed. I also don’t do well in large groups of people. But if I’m getting paid AND I get to see Alaska AND I get to hear/play some good music, I can deal with a few inconveniences.
MARK: When my family and I were in San Francisco a year or so ago, we took a day to explore the redwoods. I don’t like to use the word “magical,” as it makes me sound like a certain old hippie that I used to work with at Seva, but it’s hard to think of a more fitting word…
MISTY LYN: Humbling. That’s the word for me. The quietest quiet. Time stops. An indescribable, intoxicating smell. You have to see the colors with your own eyes. It’s like walking into some kind of knowing. The first grove that Eli and I stopped at was on the side of the road on the Avenue of the Giants. It stunned us into silence. When we did speak, we whispered. I love that the groves are called cathedrals because it is so fitting. It really is a spiritual experience to be among living things that have been part of this world so much longer than most anything else. That’s my kind of church.
MARK: When I was driving across the country, I was really struck by sheer vastness of the west. I mean, you hear people say “big sky country” and you think you know what they mean, but, until you see it for yourself, there’s really no way you can appreciate it. When you can see an entire storm system moving across the landscape, a hundred or so miles away, for instance, it really drives home the enormity of it all.
MISTY LYN: Yes! This is the third time I’ve driven across the U.S. and it’s been different every time. It’s easy to fall in love with this country when you get to see it from the road. On this trip, my “big sky country” moment came while driving through Utah (which is my favorite state so far – the Land of Contradictions!). We came over this hill and the canyons just opened up larger and wider and more colorful than I could ever have imagined. We both said “holy shit!” at the same time. It was just jaw dropping. I wish I could remember exactly where it was… I only know that it was between Richfield, Utah and Colorado.
MARK: Now that you’ve driven across country three times, I wonder if you’re getting better at it. Are you, for instance, doing a better job of planning? Are you leaving more time to just explore?
MISTY LYN: Nah. It’s been over 10 years since the last time I did it, so anything I’d learned, I’ve definitely forgotten. I’ve always been one to keep plans to a minimum when I travel, so that just comes naturally. I will say that, now that I’m a little older, being on the road is much different. I can’t do the 20-30 hours of straight driving anymore.
MARK: If you had just six words to describe each of your trips across country, what would they be? So, eighteen words to encapsulate three cross-country trips. Can you do it?
MISTY LYN: Man, I don’t think I can. The purpose of the first trip was to visit a friend in California, and the trip back to Michigan involved driving across the south (with a stop at the Grand Canyon) to Florida, and then back north. The second trip was was based around seeing Tom Petty in Santa Barbara, California, outside, second row, with Steve Earle opening. On that trip we also met Jonny Lang at the Santa Cruz Blues Festival and we won pretty big in Las Vegas. I’m such a different person now, with a different view of the world, that this trip felt way different. Different things are fun for me now. A good example of this is how I felt when we stopped in Vegas this time around. I just couldn’t get past the pure consumption going on there. I was not at all feeling it. I’m not judging, I’ve certainly had fun there in the past, I just never need to see it again.
MARK: Did you write at all on this trip?
MISTY LYN: No. I don’t usually write about things I’m experiencing until later. I did read Siddhartha, though. It somehow fit the feel of the trip perfectly for me. I’m so happy I brought it.
MARK: Siddhartha is a book about the attainment of enlightenment… Is there perhaps a passage that comes to mind that really struck you when you were on this trip?
MISTY LYN: Not a specific passage, but more like the feeling I got overall from reading it. I love the idea of every person you come into contact with being your teacher. I love how Siddhartha allows himself to become what he despised, succoming to the material world, and that it was all OK. In the end his greatest teacher was a man most people thought stupid because of his simple life living on the river. It gave me that fleeting understanding that it’s all perfect – the good and the bad – even if my ego can’t see the how and why of it. It helped me get over the fact that there are houses on the coast of the world surrounded by barbed wire… and I was able to enjoy my experience. Great book!
MARK: What’s the best place to spend an hour between here and the west coast, when making the drive across country?
MISTY LYN: An hour? For me personally it’s easily the Avenue of the Giants. I think it should be a mandatory experience for every American. Hopefully you’ll get more than an hour to take it all in.
MARK: I’m curious… What, in your opinion, are five other experiences that should be mandatory for every American?
MISTY LYN:That is a huge question, so I’m gonna try to answer really quickly. I wish I was funny…that would make this way more interesting for the reader. Um…
2. One month working as a server or bartender. (Perhaps including one or two U-M football saturdays.)
3. Travel to another continent and become immersed in another culture. Find out how they feel about the USA.
4. One mandatory, mediated three-hour conversation with someone you hate, fear, or don’t understand. A gay person, a Jew, a Christian, a prison inmate, someone on welfare, a gun owner, a drug addict, a conservative, a liberal.
5. Plant a garden.
Number two was purely selfish, but I’m not taking it back.