Archive for April, 2011

I think I fell in love with music right around the time I fell in love with Rick Springfield.  Staring at his picture on the cover of the “Jessie’s Girl” 45, I vowed I would meet him; we would fall in love and eventually marry.  By 14 I had figured out I hadn’t won the lottery in the looks department so I would have to get his attention some other way.  Maybe I could become a rock star.  He’d have to notice me if I were a rock star.  It seemed like a pretty foolproof plan at the time.  All I had to do was learn to play guitar, write some songs, put a band together, record a hit record and bam! Rick would be mine.  It was almost too easy.

I bought my first guitar from a consignment shop in Campbelltown, PA.  It cost me ten dollars and the bridge was broken, causing the low E string to slide over to the A string when you played.  I fixed that problem with a saxophone reed and began my guitar lessons.  My teacher taught me folk songs, plunking out the melody note by note.  I practiced “Down in the Valley” and “Jimmy Crack Corn” (almost) faithfully for a while, but couldn’t help but notice Rick didn’t play guitar this way.  After watching his performance on Solid Gold I also noticed he didn’t play an acoustic guitar at all.  It became clear that I would need an electric guitar.

The local music store was manned by salesmen in dress shirts and ties.  They may have been musicians as well, but at Marty’s Music in Lebanon Valley Mall, they were being paid to be salesmen first, which is so very unlike going into Guitar Center these days.   I think their main business came from band instrument rentals, but there was the obligatory wall of electric guitars.  I remember the sales folk being polite to me despite the fact I was a teenage girl loitering without an adult.  My visits were frequent because my mom was a bit fashion-fixated and spent many a Friday or Saturday evening in the fitting room of Boscov’s Department Store at the end of the mall. 

After several months of continued folk guitar lessons and “just browsing” sessions at Marty’s Music, I managed to talk my mom into coming into the store with me where she dropped $140 on a black Cort guitar and a  practice amp.  Finally I was getting somewhere. I grabbed a chord dictionary (which I still have, dog-eared and beat up as it is) and learned the true Secret of the Brotherhood of Garage Band Guitarists – the barre chord!

Me in the 80's

I began writing songs in earnest.  One of my first songs was called “Goodnight,Australia” (Australia being my secret code word for Rick Springfield.) I decided I would call my band Centrifugal Force and our first album would be A Touch of Trash (Get it, a clever twist on the phrase “a touch of class”?  Already I was thinking about marketing strategies and image as my early promo Polaroid shows).

In no time at all I discovered two things: 1.) If I recorded songs on my little GE tape recorder, then played the tape back through the family stereo, played along on a different instrument and recorded all of that with my tape recorder, I could multi-track; 2.) Electric guitars don’t naturally sound like electric guitars do in most rock recordings.  You need a distortion pedal for that, and thus began the musician’s endless quest for more gear.

I spent a lot of time alone in my room recording music and daydreaming about Rick Springfield.  In the real world I didn’t have many friends, and I didn’t share my music very often.  The mere fact that I could do all of this made me exceptional in my mind.  The few times I did let friends listen to my recordings I was met with odd expressions and blunt critiques from teenage girls who listened to Michael Jackson and Madonna.

I’m not sure when Rick Springfield fell out of the equation of my music, but eventually he did.  He was replaced by Michael Monroe of Hanoi Rocks and Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue, and then Robert Smith of The Cure, and then a boy named Mike.  I’m grateful for my muse in whatever form it shows up  these days –  sometimes a person from my everyday life, sometimes a figure larger than life.  Inspiration always feels good.

Close to 30 years later I will admit that I never became very good at guitar.  I prefer bass and keys.  I’ve also come to realize that despite my love of music, some of the key elements required to be a successful working artist are just not in my makeup.  This has been a long and painful lesson.  I sometimes find myself puzzling over the enduring message we send to our children about following your dreams; if you can dream it you can achieve it, etc.  And then the contrasting advice we give to each other and ourselves as grown-ups when we feel disappointment that things have not turned out as hoped: Grow up; Get over it.  These days I try to be gentler with myself when I connect the dots between here and there and wonder why I never hit the intended mark.

Rick n meObviously I did not become a rock star, but I finally managed to record a CD. Very much like my original recordings it is just me, a bunch of instruments and a multi-tracking device, which is now my computer.  I didn’t marry Rick Springfield either, but I did meet him once and got this fabulous photo of the two of us. After I got the picture developed (remember getting pictures developed?) I sent a copy of it to my cousin, who hung it up in her work cubicle.  A coworker came by, looked at it and said, “Is that your cousin’s husband?”  Sometimes the key to happiness is redefining your success, and for that brief instance I was living the dream.

From my upcoming EP – Phases Like The Moon

Elevator Music

In the made for TV movie of you and me
You would be played by James Spader
And I would be Ally Sheedy
And we’d meet in a hospital elevator
Where you had just learned that it was terminal
While I was checking in for shock therapy
And our eyes would meet as the doors slid closed
And then – Ah, and then – Oh
And then seven stories – down we go!

Don’t walk away
Don’t walk away
I still need you babe
In my own special way

I like elevator music
Do you like elevator music?
Elevator music
I like
Elevator Music

I hear you coughing in the darkness
And now I’m crawling through the debris
My hands are groping all the skin, blood and bone
They won’t be showing this on TV
I don’t know if my legs are working
And still I feel a little ache
I climb on top of you
Confess that I’ve been stalking you
And then Ah and then oh
And then time for a commercial break!

Don’t walk away
Don’t walk away
I still need you babe
In my own special way

I like elevator music
Do you like elevator music?
Elevator music
I like
Elevator Music

A little bit dark, and a whole lot of weird, this song was inspired by a long-term crush that ended badly.  The song itself has its roots in a musical project than never got off the ground, but introduced me to the groove-based punk band, The Transplants. While it sounds nothing like The Transplants, their music gave me  new ideas on how to approach writing.

This song has, in my mind, always needed a music video and so when I first recorded it I put one together.  Eight months pregnant at the time and deep into making machinima with The Sims 2, Elevator Music first hit YouTube like this.  Let me know which one you like better.

 

It’s Monday.

 My husband is 3000 miles away on the east coast celebrating a milestone birthday with his father.  My oldest son is in a nearby town with a friend, playing video games at an arcade.  My three-year old and I are in the backyard weeding and planting lavender and poppies. 

 Our backyard is fenced in, but behind the fence our property continues several hundred feet down a steep hill before it turns into state preserved park land.  I often dump my lawn clippings down the hill, where two huge decaying tree trunks also reside, having been cut down last summer when they began dropping large, dead limbs onto our deck.

My three-year old is standing triumphantly on a remaining stump; the stump might as well be a throne placed on our hill   You can’t help but feel you’re in command of something with a spectacular view like this, looking down on the valley and the ocean beyond.

 “Be careful,” I tell my son, because my mother danger detector tells me he might slip and fall down, down, down the hill, and collide with the rotting tree trunks causing all manner of bodily injury.

 In my head, I’m running through an end-of-the-world scenario.  Although my logical brain tells me it is highly unlikely we have reached the end of human civilization as we know it, tornadoes in the south and a major earthquake in Japan has put my animal brain on alert.  We could be next, my inner paranoid says, and it could be bad. It could be the “big one” they keep telling us is inevitable.

 In my daydream of doom I imagine my son and me riding scooters on the deserted highways, eating left over Halloween candy because all of the other food is gone, playing games to distract him from the devastation and death that surrounds us.  In short, I’m cooking up a post-Apocalyptic take on Life is Beautiful. And then the rumble begins.

 I look up at the house and see the window panes rattling in their frames.  I look back to my son perched atop that dangerous stump and I snatch him down.

 That quickly it’s over.

 My instinct is to get inside, but my second thought is to wait, because if there’s more to come we’re actually in a pretty safe place now that we’ve moved away from the treacherous tree stump.

 My son has barely registered the quake.  After a few moments we go inside where I discover the power is off.  I use my cell phone to contact a friend.  She confirms that yes, there was an earthquake, a 3.8, and yes the power is off.  Before saying goodbye she reminds me that it’s the anniversary of the 1906 earthquake. 

 My son and I read books and play a few games of Bingo to pass the time while I wait  . . . for something; news that something far worse has happened nearby, a second, stronger earthquake, anything to put an end to this lingering sense of dread that intensifies every time I read the news these days.

An hour later we are still without electricity.  A helicopter flies over and circles the valley.  I try to imagine what life would be like if the power never came back on. No more computers, television, refrigerated food. No more recorded music. My synthesizer would be rendered useless, but I could always play piano by candlelight in the evening.  It has a certain appeal.

Suddenly everything whirrs back to life.  The power is back.  My son calls to say he is on his way home.  My husband calls to say he just got in from the restaurant with his family.  I start dinner .  Life as I know it goes on.

I’m in a creative phase right now, working on new material after almost two years of refining and recording material for my upcoming EP.

 Having space to create feels good in so many ways. Creativity is both my coping mechanism and my vanity; my psychic insulation from the world, and my Achilles Heel. There’s also a compulsive element, particularly when I’m working on a new song or three, as I am right now.  A large part of my brain is tied up in endlessly repeating unfinished song lyrics hoping to push through to the next line or hearing bits of music in my head and wanting to see how they fit together with another part I already have.  I can lose track of time easily when I’m right there in the moment, and maybe that’s the magic of creativity for me. It’s one of the few things I do that actually puts me in the moment. 

I have two sons – ages 3 and 11.  They have lived with their mother’s creative compulsion all their lives.  At times it’s worked out well for them – a huge papier-mache volcano in the back yard? Sure!  Make a movie about our cat being a demon kitty?  Mom’s ready to shoot and edit.  But for the most part, Mom’s creative life is an inconvenience, just like Dad’s job.  They have yet to put it together that mom’s creativity, unlike Dad’s job, isn’t really funding the household, and in America no money means no value.  Maybe they will never see it that way.  Maybe that’s just my hang up.

But because I’m not “professional” and because my subject matter is often dark or weird, I keep quiet about what I do when meeting new moms at school functions or on playgrounds.   When asked,  I simply say I stay home with the kids, which is true, but it feels like only half the story since creativity is my lifeline.  I often wonder how many other moms have similar secrets.  

I would sound horribly selfish to say that my kids get in the way of my creativity.  Creativity is my release and my kids are often the cause of stress.  I have met many a mom who has told me with honest joy that her children have brought creativity back into her life, or her children have helped her re-channel her creativity into useful family things like sewing, crocheting, scrapbooking.  My children do inspire me often, but never to scrapbook.   Childhood has dark, scary  and wonderful moments that they have helped me remember.  They have also given me the gift of urgency.  Because of them, I no longer feel I need a whole day to work up a song idea – I’ve got an hour and a half before preschool pick up. Time to make music – Go!

 I  feel guilty during those long slow hours in the afternoon when I am playing make-believe Star Wars,  or Dinosaur Bingo, but secretly running  song lyrics in my head over and over again hoping to get to that next line.  If ever something demanded being in the moment, it is parenting.  

My litmus test for how I spend my time is this: were I on my deathbed right now, would I regret that I had not done more of a particular activity?  I’m pretty sure I won’t be regretting that the stove didn’t get deep-cleaned more, or that I didn’t shop for clothes often enough.  On the other hand, when it comes to playing music or playing with my kids, the answer to both is a resounding Yes! I would regret not living both my life as a mother and my life as a creative person to the fullest. I’m just a little conflicted on the balancing act.

I often wonder how other artist moms handle balancing their creative life and their parenting life. . .

Self portrait - I've never been good at drawing guilt.

 

I’m very pleased to announce my first live show on Saturday, May 28th at The Hotel Utah in San Francisco, CA.  I’ll be opening for  the always amazing, Ready!Ricochet and San Diego artist,  Maren Parusel.  It’s a particularly auspicious occasion, as it is also Ready!Ricochet’s CD release party.

For my performance, I’ll be doing a few songs solo with my keyboard and looper, and then I’ll be joined on stage by Ready!Ricochet drummer, Gina Montel and bassist, Erica Liss for two song off of my upcoming EP.  Also sitting in with me will be Pauli Gray on guitar and my husband, Scott on keys.  

 Scott and I haven’t shared a stage since the mid 90’s when he decided he’d had enough of the musical life.   He has supported my musical endeavors 110% all these years and even plays some key on my CD.   I’m thrilled that he’s “coming out of retirement” for my show.

Pauli, Gina and I used to be in a band together called Candy From Strangers.  CFS was a fabulously trashy, glam-punk-pop affair.  It was most likely the best band I will ever take part in, so I remember it fondly.  It will be great to be on stage with Pauli and Gina again also.

I’ve always excelled at making beginnings ending, and occasionally vice versa.  While I would love to think of this show as the starting point of something, I’m thinking of it more as a milestone.  I’m conflicted when it comes to performing live.  I’ve had some amazing  experiences on stage, but I’ve had  more bad nights which have left me wondering why I do this at all.   Sometimes being a performer feels like being a lion tamer working with an unpredictable beast, the audience.  You put your head in its jaws hoping it will eat you up in the best possible way, rather than just chewed up and spit out.  I guess lion tamers never want to be eaten at all, so strike that last attempt at metaphorical language.

If you happen to be reading this from the San Francisco Bay Area, let me at least recommend you come see the show just to catch Ready!Ricochet, particularly if you like post-punk/industrial/synth-driven music.  Here’s a taste from their last show.

No Child of Mine

Posted: April 7, 2011 in Dark Phase, images, music

 

 

The early morning sky held the color of her skin

You’d been gone for days and I couldn’t sleep again

I poured myself a drink to ease my throbbing head

I poured myself another to help me off to bed

Oh and one to feel that happiness that you could never give

 And one to help me to forget that this is how we live 

 Well this is how we live.

She’d been crying for hours, empty bottle on the floor

Hers or mine, I don’t recall and it don’t matter anymore

I took her in my arms and rocked her off to sleep

I went into the bathroom and ran the water warm and deep

And then I did the one that no one can forgive

And I’m reminded every day, every day I live

Every day I live.

The early morning sky gave way to the darkest day

But the look in your eyes was worth all the time I pay

They came for the story but never got the truth

All those years at your hands, the neglect and the abuse

Yeah, the misery of this life, you know I’ve had my fill

But I can sleep in peace each night knowing

No child of mine ever will

~P.S. 

2007

Inspired by the John Updike novel, Run, Rabbit, Run

Inspiration looks at Anna and says, “Uh, hey, I’m going down to the corner store for a six pack and some smokes.  You want anything?”

pretty colors drawing

Anna with the pretty colors on the outisde

 Anna looks up at Inspiration with big, hungry eyes and replies, “Always.” She reaches out for Inspiration, trying to wrap him up in one of her warm, needy, body hugs, but he moves away.

“So you don’t want anything?” Inspiration asks impatiently.

“Not from the corner store,” she says.

“I’ll be back.”    Inspiration is gone. 

Anna knows he’s lying.  Just like his brother, Music.   “God, the things the three of us used to do together”, thinks Anna.  “What a whore I was for them.”  But now they’re the ones always sleeping around.  Who needs them really?  Anna convinces herself she is much better without them.  Now when she dreams, it is peacefully silent, and all her images are just manipulated visual regurgitations of the familiar.  She paints all the bright pretty colors on the outside of her body and leaves the inside rooms sparse and neutral.   

Anna rides the bus home late at night.  She imagines the other passengers must think she’s just like them: lonely, drunk, and homeless.  She never imagines the other passengers are just like her.

Drawing - darkness

People on the bus at night look different

People on the bus at 2:00am look different than people on the bus during the day.  The faces look a little distorted, the skin tones remind her of spoiled meat in a deli case.  Maybe darkness has a weight, and people continually in darkness become altered by it in time.  At home Anna looks at her face in the mirror, wondering if she has spent too much time out in the night.

 But she likes traveling at night.  Sometimes she pretends she is Darkness, and night is her job.  She has to show up for 12 hours or so and just hang over the city while Light takes a break.  It sounds like fun, but she worries about vacation – who would cover for her?   Would it pay well?

Her real job is watching television.  She used to hate TV, but now she watches it all through her shift and then some more at home.  In some ways she feels more connected to everything.  She knows a lot of other people are watching other places and that makes her feel safe. Television is one of the few peaceful and unifying pastimes left, she thinks.   She used to be all alone at her job, but now there is another person who is watching television, too.  They watch different shows.  When she was there by herself, she sometimes wished there were someone to talk to.  Now, she realizes how much she enjoyed being alone.  He co-worker doesn’t say much to her anyway.  The each wear headphones and watch their own television while typing on their own computer terminal.  It feels a lot like a science fiction novel about an oppressive society enslaved to technology.  Anna thinks she would do well in that society.

After her coworker leaves, Anna runs around the office, walks down the halls throwing kicks, and forages through the secretaries’ desks for food.  One secretary always hides chocolate chip cookies.  Anna takes one each night and is very careful to return the cookie tin to its hiding place. The secretary has hidden the cookies in different places, so Anna thinks she must know.  At first she felt ashamed, but now she does it to prove a point.

Once she came to work after having drinks with friends.  She was very drunk  and so she just lay there on the floor feeling the office spin.  A movie was on television: A woman in a dress  with a hundred stuffed hands sewn on to it danced while a voice chanted: “Get your hands off her, Get your hands off her.” 

Anna didn’t get any work done that night, but got paid anyway.  At first she was ashamed by this, but then she decided it was just a larger version of stealing cookies from the secretary.