Frivolous Universe


A casino lobby in the middle of the desert. Everything you look at is at once banal and terrifying, like ketchup streaked across a used diner plate in a Stephen Shore photograph. I am a member of a traveling band. I sing and play guitar.

Kim Philley, denim trench, trenchcoat, vintage

I get this feeling in Reno that if I could scratch through each texture–polymer, Half & Half, drywall, motel-bed-coverlet chintz–I could touch the great neutral, the dispassionate pith underlying these strange surfaces we call skin.

Circus Circus, Reno, Casino

To be a writer–songs, poems, essays, short stories–is to work through the peaks and troughs of chronic ontological crisis. I look hard at everything. I think about the dark arts: how the Internet traffics in eyes, peddling our vision back to us through cookies, clicks, likes, and links. Most of what I read or see on the web has a mortuary sheen: its inevitable swift decay cannily masked by more of the same. In other words, the medium I am working in at this precise moment has a way of deadening that which is trying to live.

Circus Circus, Reno, Nevada, Casino

Our brains stubbornly cleave to one instant, even as the next instant takes its place. This is the persistence of vision. This is how film tricks our brain into seeing a galloping image in a series of still frames.

Kim Philley, Pyramid Lake, Nevada

I’ve spent the past year looking for the still center of the world, for the instrument that is not an interface, for a sense of disconnection that does not require a wholesale dropping out. I started by learning to play guitar. A guitar is not an interface. My body is not a machine.

Kim Philley, Reno, cowboy boots, vintage, denim, Larry Mahan, El Paso

There’s wild bounty in having no destination. The road abounds in portals you must stumble upon in your own shit-kicking boots. In the border town of McDermitt, the Nevada-Oregon state line runs at a diagonal above the bar inside the White Horse Inn. My parents honeymooned at the White Horse, trapped on the road back to Idaho by a December snowstorm. I played my first gig last October at the Say When Casino across the street. The bar has been closed for about two decades. If you ever find yourself in McDermitt, look for the hermit who resides behind the “Rocks Ghosts” sign. If your luck holds, he will show you the Inn.

Kim Philley, White Horse, McDermitt, Nevada

In David Hinton’s new translation of the I Ching, the ten thousand things emerge from and then return to a root or source from which they reappear in a new form. “Rather than a linear progression the Western tradition assumes to be a kind of metaphysical river flowing past,” Hinton writes, “time becomes an all-encompassing generative present, a constant burgeoning forth that includes everything we think of as past and future.”

Kim Philley, Reno, Nevada

Who am I becoming as days and nights fly past?

Kim Philley, McDermitt, Nevada

Women offer baskets without fruit. Men sacrifice sheep without blood. There’s wild bounty in having no destination.

Degustabox, Degustabox USA, Sweet Dreams, natural sleep product

On the road or off the road, I can’t sleep worth a damn. Degustabox U.S. sent me a soporific surprise in my food box this month: a natural sleep spray named after my favorite Patsy Cline song, “Sweet Dreams.” Happy listening.

Degustabox, Degustabox USA, Sweet Dreams, natural sleep product

Photography: Ned Evett & Kim Philley

All italics from David Hinton’s translation of the I Ching (FSG, 2015)

Denim trench coat: Re-Style Animal Rescue Thrift Store (Boise, Idaho); shit-kicking boots: Larry Mahan, handcrafted in El Paso (Antique World Mall, Boise); iPhone: designed by Apple in California, assembled in China.


The dog days of summer are upon us, and I’ve been feeling the yen for a little frivolity in my universe. I started by donning this Toucan riot of a dress and swilling Topo Chico, my favorite new fizzy water. I took my sideshow to the playground, where the boys of summer didn’t once look up from their game of pick-up. If there’s one thing I respect more and more as I grow older, it’s an attention span.

Kim Philley

I caught the sun and spun helicopter seeds. This vintage beaded necklace is my favorite piece of jewelry I own, besides my wedding ring. My mother brought it back from Borneo in the 1970s, and it has yet to lose a bead.

Kim Philley

A lens flare off green bottle glass? You can’t plan for that. I take it as it comes, much like this year. In the past seven months I’ve been hospitalized for severe dengue fever, geographically separated from my husband, moved six times, written a half dozen new songs I’m truly proud of, and have been consumed by obsessive relationships with a 1938 Gibson, a Yamaha, and a Samick Greg Bennett Blackbird. I’ve experienced mortal artistic terror twice in the past week. The kind where your hands turn into Gummi Bears as you’re playing guitar in front of a largish festival crowd. Thankfully, my voice is unwavering.

Kim Philley

The winged earrings, made of oxidized sterling silver, are inspired by the Owyhee wilderness of southern Idaho. I head for the Owyhees when I need to clear my head, and, no, I am not playing Pokémon Go. Melissa Osgood of Yellow M Studios in Boise is one inspired jewelry designer. Her tagline is “Jewelry for YOU — the curious — the innovator — the experimenter — the wanderer.” Sounds right on to me. Better yet, her feather-light rings are a guitar picker’s friend.

Kim Philley, Melissa Osgood jewelry,

Speaking of friends, one of my favorite Lithuanians is working for a delectable food-delivered-to-your-doorstep company called Degustabox. Degustabox is already going gangbusters in Europe, but has recently launched in the U.S. I consider myself gastro-lucky to have received a sample shipment of their food swag, which includes 10 to 15 wholesome surprise products, shipped to your doorstep each month. As a lifelong fizzy water addict, my favorite grab from this month’s box was their Topo Chico Mineral Water. Topo Chico has been bottled at its source in Mexico since 1895, and their Twist of Lime is infused with lime essential oils, with narry a suspicious *natural* flavor. It’s the best fizzy I’ve ever tasted, and, again, those parrot-green lens flares!

Kim Philley, J. Crew

True confession: I am no Imelda Marcos. I own six pairs of shoes, and half of them are cowboy boots. But these J.Crew leopard wedges were on sale for 25 bucks. When the sirens of summer are singing your name, why resist?

Kim Philley, J. Crew, leopard wedge, shoes

Photography is how I unwind, but sometimes it’s fun to play artistic director. All photos are by my husband and talented collaborator, Ned Evett, who indulges my penchant for juxtaposed patterns and textures–in songwriting and in life.

Kim Philley, Music Box

As soon as we were done playing hooky on the playground, we headed back to work. We walked across the street to the Boise Bomb Shelter, where I hit the subterranean bathroom to shimmy out of my dress and into a work t-shirt and leggings. It was time to plug into our Vox amp and run set lists for our Wednesday, July 20th, Music Box show at Highland Brewery in Boise. What do I like most about the dog days of summer? Probably this guy:

Kim Philley, dog days of summer

All winter I ruminated on the past like a dog rolling over in something dead.


Tentative mountains springs teach us that there is a boundary zone between the old life and the new. Snow clings on peaks. Lupine blossoms in the sage when it’s still cold enough for fox fur.


In a sage forest the witch casts her spell.


That some people will die before we can see where they came from.


April in Hailey, Idaho. You can rock in the red chair on the front porch of the house Ezra Pound was born in.


The Parallel is an imaginary line, invoked by signage. On one side we are closer to Helsinki, on the other side, Kuala Lumpur.


In May we test the mountain roads. They are almost passable.


And spring arrives like a Cymbalta ad, full of hyperbolic promises.


turquoise sweatshirt: James Perse; teal green jeans: Russian Market, Phnom Penh; wool hat: Calvin Klein; Thai silk top: vintage; turtle amulet: Amulet Market, Bangkok; black cargo pants: Paige; black coat: Made in the Ukraine; Spanish riding boots: Frye; fox fur collared coat: charity shop, London


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Photography: Ned Evett