Twist My Arm

Originally published in Sound Waves Magazine April 2021

Spring has sprung and so have I.  There’s a spring in my step, as it were.  Could be my new sneakers, or, it could be, everything.

At an outdoor family gathering the other day I was asked to sing a song, any song.  “But why?” I said.  “Because!” they said.  “But what’s the point?” I said.  “Because you can!” they said.  Oh twist my arm.  Surprisingly, jubilance ensued.  Sheer joy resulted.  I had forgotten the feeling.

It got me thinking about the “Framing Britney Spears” documentary from the New York Times.  In some weird conservatorship battle with her father where she’s unable to have control over her own life, the movie reflects on Britney’s career and how she has wound up in this situation.  My favorite segment is a 2020 interview from the “As NOT Seen on TV” podcast with her brother Bryan Spears.  Bryan Spears says, “The women in this family are very, very strong-minded, and have their own opinion, and they wanna do what they wanna do and as much as I admire that as a guy, being, like one of two guys in this entire family, it kinda sucks man.”  So the pod cast interviewer, in a bit of shock, repeats for clarity:  “They’re strong-minded.  They want to do what they want to do.  Kinda constitutional, you know?”

Yeah, it’s our right to do what we want.  I got so mad at these comments my face turned into Jennifer Lawrence’s at the end of “Hunger Games: Catching Fire” when she’s lying on the hospital bed and Gale tells her that there is no more District 12.  The camera focuses on her face and the pent-up anger in her eyes;  her resolve to do something about it.  That’s sorta like my face after I saw the clip.

Britney Spears can’t do what she wants, locked away in some room, but I sure can.

I’m sure you’ve heard that for most musicians, performing live is where we get our air.  Well, I’m done suffocating.  I’m done with the frown upside down.  After all the loss of life, heartbreak and suffering in the past year, we simply have to go on, don’t we?  (If we’re not locked in a room.)

I sure do hope Britney escapes her stronghold because of her strong-mindedness.  And I for one look forward to breathing again musically, more honestly, more fervently, with more purpose and love… It is my constitutional right!

SEE YOU SOON !

Name That Tune

Originally published in Sound Waves Magazine February 2021

The snow falling outside today is beautiful, magical, peaceful, refreshing, mysterious and crystalline, like a Harry Potter movie.  Which gets me thinking about movie soundtracks, and you know I love me some movie soundtracks.  Those HP movies sure have some nice, memorable scores.  Scary, yet hopeful.  Eerie and spellbinding.  The soundtrack matches each scene which requires the brilliant mind of a music supervisor and a composer to bring it all together.  I enjoy breaking a good score down and analyzing the whys and wherefores of what was chosen and when certain pieces play. 

Consequently, I have developed this weird skill, maybe you have too, where I can be in another room when a movie starts, and not even peaking at the screen, I know the movie.  I can yell out the name of it, much to the chagrin of my housemates, thinking they could stump me for once.  Sure, there are the easy ones like Jaws, Jurassic Park, Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, and the like, but like I said, I can name just about any movie in two notes.  Yeah, it’s weird.

I suppose there’s a file cabinet in my brain that holds these pieces of data, albeit in musical form, that conjures this joyful yet annoying art.  It’s kinda fun!  I’ve heard they’ve brought back that old TV show “Name That Tune” which I suppose could be challenging for some, but not I.  (Just kidding, I haven’t even watched it and I’m sure it’s super hard to do, hee hee.)

Sometimes, when I think I want to watch a movie, I hum a piece of the score in order to remember the name.  Instead of thinking “I want to watch Forrest Gump,” I hear Alan Silvestri’s tinkling piano as a feather floats.  Not technically a score, but the song “Tiny Dancer” gets me wanting to watch Almost Famous.  And don’t even get me started on Disney movie scores.  John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Ennio Morricone and the like, are kind of like gods to me.  Movies about film composers, like “The Holiday” with Jack Black are super enjoyable too.  I could go on and on.

So, as the snow continues to fall, and I’m stuck within these four walls (grateful I do have four walls mind you), rather than remember the dreadfulness of loading and unloading for winter gigs, or the drudgery of shoveling the white stuff in an icy blustery mess, I will summon the joy of music, and get binging.

Spa Music

Originally published in Sound Waves Magazine January 2021

Recently, during one pandemic inspired particularly sleepless night, I had this bright idea to ask Alexa to play some spa music.  I figured, “Hey, if I can’t actually be there, I can pretend to be there.”  You know the place:  an oceanside faraway resort with a rooftop veranda adorned with fluffy wavy curtains, some comfy cushioned tables to lie on, a couple of oiled-up warm massaging hands at the ready, and the aforementioned, spa music.

But since I was lying in my drafty old bedroom, with nobody’s hands all over me, I had nothing to do but listen to the music.  But you see, we musicians can’t just listen to music like normal people.  You know, enjoy it for what it is.  No, we have to analyze, criticize, monetize, actualize, categorize and hypothesize.  For example, why did this spa music composer choose a 7-part harmony vocal patch instead of just a synth sound?  Since when was it OK to go from that chord to this chord and what circle of fifth dimension is this person in?  Why is there a random chime now?  Who wants to hear a drum beat during a massage?  Enough already with the arpeggios too.  And, why does this playlist never end?  That sort of thing.

Inevitably, because I was thinking so hard about the music, instead of wallowing in the so-called lusciousness of the music, I became more alert than when I started, my mind racing and all, and had to go do a crossword puzzle.  These obscure little word games can distract, detract, confound, befuddle and bemuse just as well as listening to spa music, and as an added bonus, I can learn a thing or two.  Not so much with spa music. So even though 2020 thinks it b*tch-slapped us into thinking we must subject ourselves to truly horrible things, like spa music, we still have a choice.  I choose knowledge and truth.  And puzzles.

Finding the Music

Originally published in Sound Waves Magazine December 2020

When the bars and the schools and the live music venues and the world shut down in March 2020 so did the music, so it seemed.  Rather than put my quarantine time to good use by writing some introspective songs on my guitar, I left it there, lying on my band practice basement floor in its case, gathering dust.  I felt no joy in music.  It was all too sad for me.

The silence was deafening at first.  I live a half a mile from I-95 and there was…nothing.  The quiet was eerie and scary.  I resisted but I gradually found music elsewhere.

I found it in the carillon at the top of the Union Baptist Church on High Street in Mystic, Connecticut.  On every hour the bells play Westminster Quarters and a tone for each hour, except for 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. when an entire song is played for 15 minutes.   I pulled my car over to listen, amazed at the rarity yet familiarity of hearing music of any kind. The church has stood since 1765 and a standard church bell had rung consistently at 10:15 a.m. to warn townsfolk that it was time to get ready for church.  When the hurricane of 1938 destroyed the steeple and town clock a year later they were replaced by a carillon and a new clock.  I spoke with lifetime deacon Bill Adams who told me he computerized the carillon in the year 2000 complete with a collection of 500 songs.  He and staff members choose the songs for the week depending on the season and the holiday, mostly hymns and during December, Christmas songs.   There it was:  Music in its simplest yet modern form.

When Andrea Bocelli sang on Easter Sunday at Milan’s Duomo cathedral, while drone cameras floated above empty cities around the world, it was the first time I had seen live music since the start of it.  I couldn’t help the tears running down my face as my ham warmed in the oven while my daughter, home for an extended spring break from college, a break that would last six months, looked forward to an Easter egg hunt in the yard.  Just she and my husband would be doing the hunting.  Hope sprang, for a short while.

I would sit on my back porch leaning my ears toward the highway longing for anything, anything at all.  Now and then I could hear a whirr or two from a big rig but motorcyclists, always living life undauntedly, added music too: Harleys a low hum, Kawasakis a fifth interval higher. 

As summer approached I found music more prevalently, because I so desperately needed to hear it.  There was a lone cricket in the garage, some dew drops through the leaves, a family of doves which had tripled in their numbers, the squeal of a red-tailed hawk, seagulls I could hear from Long Island Sound a couple miles to the east.  On foggy days that same ocean graced me with the perfectly timed foghorn from Stonington Point.  There was a trickle from my backyard stream.  I could certainly find the music when I cranked up a Netflix movie with a great soundtrack with the whish whish whishing of the air conditioners competing while a UPS truck’s backup alarm pulling into the drive grabbed my attention. 

I took to the outdoors more and there it was again:  The splish splash of kayak oars, the gulping of a bull frog, the twerp of a toad, the crackle of a backyard fire, steaks sizzling on the grill, a bug snapper, the kazoo of a quail, and keeping the beat, a woodpecker.  I noted that the pounding of the surf at Misquamicut Beach in Westerly, Rhode Island is different than the lapping softness at Eastern Point Beach in Groton, Connecticut and that sand running through your toes makes a sound if you listen.

I soon found joy in the sound of cracking an acorn with my walking sneakers, crunching fallen leaves, kicking loose branches out of the way.  I found the rhythm with my chop chop chopping of autumn vegetables while prepping a five-hour stew and with the sprinkling of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme on my Thanksgiving turkey.  There was even a remote joy hearing the harmonies of a coyote pack and a lone gray wolf on a moonlit night, followed by an alerting hiss from a doe to her young. Soon there will be jingle bells, wrapping paper, scissors and tape to drown the silence.  There will be clinking of champagne glasses.  There will be hymns.  Maybe I’ll strum my guitar.  With winter upon us and the barer the trees, the more our voices carry.  Oh listen – there’s “Joy to the World!”

Ornery

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine November 2020

Football just isn’t the same.  Baseball wasn’t the same.  Halloween wasn’t the same.  Thanksgiving undoubtedly, will not be the same.  I try not to think about the dissimilarities too much because they just make me ornery.  And nothing good ever comes of being ornery.  Grumpy old men who never got what they wanted out of life are ornery.  Aging spinsters and old maids who never married, if they’re mad about it, are ornery.  Scrooges are ornery.  Children who don’t get their way are ornery.  Musicians who never became rock stars can be the orniest of all.  I’ve seen them in action and it ain’t pretty.  I’ve even seen one in the mirror. 

It’s rather easy to be ornery these days, so hard to be upbeat and positive.  But historically, I have preferred to not be ornery.  I have preferred to roll with the punches and grab what kind of joy I possibly could.  I have preferred to bring joy, not more orneriness.

I was in a band once (remember those?) where the bass player was the orniest dude I ever met.  He was overweight and had constant back problems so therefore always had the perfect excuse for not helping load the equipment.  “Hey Jack, some help here with this one-hundred-pound bass cabinet?”  “No, not today Sue, back’s acting up.”  “OK, I’ll get it.  Rock on.”  And he would in fact rock on, he was a darn good bass player.  He could throw down some nice vocal harmonies too.  So, we let him stay even though he argued about every song choice, every arrangement, every gig, every dollar of low pay.  He was ornery, we knew, because of his constant pain, so as human beings trying to bring joy to others with our music, who were we to judge?  I’ve found him recently on social media, and wouldn’t you know it, every single post or comment from him is:  ornery.

Once an ornery dude always an ornery dude I reckon.

So in this grouchiest of years that is 2020, I’ll continue to try and not be ornery (I don’t want that label, no sirree.)  This month I’ll still cook a turkey with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme and eat the leftovers for a week.  I’ll donate a turkey or two.  I’ll bring some canned goods to the shelters.  I’ll pray for an end to this thing.  I’ll think about playing music again.  I won’t let this thing turn me into that dude.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thirteen Basements

I went down to my basement the other day to look for an extension cord or something and I stopped dead in my tracks.  No, it wasn’t another mouse or a monster daddy long-leg, it was worse:  it was a band practice basement frozen in time.  My guitars in their cases, speakers strewn about hastily set down in the middle of the floor after the last post-gig load-in; printouts of chords and lyrics of songs to be worked on; mic stands placed haphazardly here and there; a zipped-up gig bag filled to the brim with carefully wound equipment cables; another bag with multiple microphones set into their foam resting places.  I also spied a massive and intricate spider web between the mixer and the drum set.  The day the music died was around March 13, 2020.  We all know why.

It got me thinking about my other basements of band practice pasts.  Upon reflection, most conjure memories of low ceilings, dank and dark, moldy and cave-like; some more spider-webby than others.  Some were finished and carpeted in completely livable lower levels with walkouts to fresh air, useful when needing a breather from the intensity of bandmate drama or creative juice overload.  Some band practice spaces weren’t basements at all.  They were apartment living rooms, upstairs bedrooms or rented studios, all transformed for the same purpose:  musical creation and comradery.

The tools of music have always been able to find their own rightful spaces next to weight-lifting equipment, exercise bikes, holiday storage bins, stockpiles of toilet paper and extra condiments and the aforementioned, extension cords.  The tools always had a higher purpose.  They had a reason for being there.  They were essential to a life well lived.

The fact that my current basement space has succumbed to paralysis and cobwebs due to global events beyond its control, is indeed, sad and scary.  They say you shouldn’t get sentimental about real estate, but this basement has served me well; better than the others.  It is bright and airy with majestic countryside views through copious windows, with plenty of lighting when things go late into the evening, complete with a spacious groupie sectional couch.  Plenty of room for even working on some background dancer numbers (no, but oh how fun that could have been!)  Oh what could have been indeed.

We continue to hold on to hope.  Happy Halloween.

Retail Therapy

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine September 2020

We’ve all had to do what we had to do during COVID-19.  Some of us have taken this time to reflect and really focus on what’s important.  Some of us explored new creative outlets and found out there’s more to us than we thought.  Some of us focused on family.  And some of us just went nuts on Amazon.  Like buying nutty ridiculous things such as two kinds of wire whisks in different colors, new dust pans and tons of forks and knives.  (Guilty!)  But on the plus side, all that kind of balanced out.  Here’s a list of things I DID NOT buy over my summer pandemic vacation:

  • Guitar strings, guitar pics, 9-volt batteries, those little dime-sized batteries for Snark tuners, new guitars, amps, speakers, instrument and speaker cables or mixing boards
  • Oodles of snack for band practice
  • Pints of Blackberry Brandy to hide in my purse for getting through shows
  • Gas for the gig van, oil changes for the gig van
  • Shiny rock star outfits for gigs, a nice salon haircut and color
  • Lunches and dinners trying to track down booking agents, drinks and appetizers consumed while enjoying other musicians’ shows, drinks for long lost buddies who showed up to my shows, late night breakfasts
  • Concert tickets, new music

When you do the math, which I’m hesitant to do, was I better off?  I really do like my new Amazon king-size sheets.  On reflection though, I think I’ve had enough of Amazon.  As my favorite season approaches, and uncertainty still looms, I’m thinking about my own apple trees…  Oh wait, I forgot about L.L. Bean!

apples

Nautical Notes

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine August 2020

I’ve been spending a lot of time around boats and pretty much zero time with my guitar and it got me thinking. Why are there so many analogies about boats anyway? Is it because we were born in a womb of water and desperately just want to dive back in? Can all of boating be compared to all of life, just like baseball? Are boating and music intertwined?

I don’t know but suddenly I find myself a boater, and sort of a dodger of music-related things so I thought I’d have some fun comparing the two. Provided below are some nauticisms, if you will.

Abandon Ship – when the song just isn’t working and people are talking louder than the band so the lead singer just ends it with a fake slit across the neck

Ahoy Mate – means great to see ya, even though you’re late, I still love ya!

All Hands On Deck – when it’s time to break down the equipment at the end of the night (but the horn players inevitably, abandon ship)

Anchors Away – everybody’s plugged in and ready to go

Batten Down The Hatches – when you’re getting ready for an explosive audience response, or crickets

Cast Off – when you have to fire somebody in the band and send them to their own egomaniac island

Close Quarters – the square footage of most venue stages for bands

Come Around – instead of turning into the wind it’s when we keep the solos going because people are dancing for the one rare time

Dead Ahead – when a Grateful Dead cover band is playing down the street and everybody’s there

Even Keeled – the rare occurrence when the music’s meshing and the drummer’s not rushing things

Gangway – when the guitar player takes control of the song

Gone Overboard – when the lead singer crashes and burns

Keep a Sharp Lookout – when everybody in the band is looking for the booking agent (this can last for months)

Land Ho! – the eruption of applause and standing ovation at the end of the night

Lost at Sea – when the bass player is in the key of G but everybody else is in A

Make Waves – when somebody in the band starts questioning everything – where the band is going, song choices, upcoming gigs or the lack thereof

Making Headway – when your musical career is going just fine but then a global pandemic hits

Pass Down the Line – when the lead singer yells something to the bass player who then yells to the drummer who then yells to the guitarist. No need to yell to the horn players, they don’t care.

No Wake Zone – when the leader of the band just tries to keep everybody in the band happy by constantly compromising their convictions

Rock the Boat – self-explanatory

Rough Seas Ahead – the dreaded third set when you’ve already played all the good songs

Run Aground – when no one in the band knows where we are in the song but we pretend like we do and consequently just make things worse

Set a Course – when the bandleader makes a set list, prints it out for everybody, it’s right in front of everyone, but we skip around and ignore it anyway

Shoot Across the Bow – when the guitar player gets going on an opening riff to a song but the drummer starts a different song

Stem the Tide – when the drummer decides he’s had enough of the disastrous song and just goes “Plop Plop” on the snare

Stem to Stern – when the whole band shows up on time, are all in tune and on the same wavelength (wait – that’s a radio term… hmm… maybe next month)

Storm Warning – that uneasy feeling every time we start a show. Will they hate us? Will they dance? Will anyone even come?

Three Sheets to the Wind – when we imbibe too much to get through the show

Wide Berth – when you have to get out of the way of the lead singer because he or she is going nuts, and three sheets to the wind

That’s all for now. The ocean is calling me.

Improv

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine July 2020

Improvisation in music is a time-honored skill reserved for the best of the best musicians. In jazz, it’s downright required to have the skill. In rock, we call it jamming. In theatre, we call it sketches. Whatever the words we use it all means we’re making stuff up as we go along, and we’re rolling with it.

During this COVID-19 global pandemic and economic disaster, businesses across all industries are improvising to make it through. Restauranteurs are serving meals in their parking lots. Manufacturers are making masks. Distilleries are making hand sanitizers. The list goes on.

Musicians, those most creative of human organisms, are really getting clever. The need to express themselves and try to send out healing and comforting vibes is at an all-time high.

Here are some rather interesting examples of ingenuity and improvisation I’ve witnessed on a musical level:

– Load a band onto an oyster barge, drop anchor, and tell other boat owners to gather ’round and drop anchor. Power up the amps, speakers and mixing board with a generator. Ocean Concert – Done

– Load a band onto the back of a flatbed truck. Same concept with the generator. Drive through neighborhood streets and crank it up. Encourage people to come outside and listen if they want. Stop the truck in front of a house if there’s interest. Band on a Float – Done.

– Set up a band on a stage in an empty field. Have fans drive their cars and park in the field and listen to the band. Drive-In Concert – Done.

I’m sure there are more. Let’s keep it up. It’s the American way!

God Bless America and Happy Fourth!

Miss You

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine June 2020

When I owned a music consignment shop a dude came in one day asking for stage lighting. He said it was for a very important show for a very important superstar. I thought it odd that he would come into my little shop for such an important event, but hey, I rolled with it. He said the lights had to be laser style and super cool. I happened to have a super cool light set, he bought it, and went on his way. I guess he went somewhere and tested the things and the superstar really dug them. The superstar gave me a call to thank me.

It was Mick Jagger.

We laughed and chatted about longevity in the music biz and so forth. He went his way and I went mine.

As time went on, he would call occasionally to see how me and my little shop were doing. “Oh, you know, same ole same ole,” I would say. I called him on his birthday just to say, you know, “Happy Birthday,” and he said he had been doing some research on me. So appreciative of the lighting thing, and the birthday call he said, “Hey, why don’t you come up on stage for a little numba at my next show at Gillette Stadium, just ’round the corner from you I believe.”

Gee, let me think.

So I get to Gillette, figure out how to get backstage, and I meet the superstar. He said, “What song you want to do lovey?”

I said “Well, my fav is ‘Miss You.’ How ’bout that?” He agrees. A few songs into the concert Mick waves me onstage, makes some introductions, picks up a guitar and starts jammin’ on the opening lick. I just kinda stood there for a while and he began singing, “I been holdin’ on so long, I been sleepin’ all alone, lord I miss you.” I throw in some “Whoo Whoos…” I just kinda do whatever. We get to the interlude “I been walkin’ Central Park, singin’ after dark, people think I’m crazy….” but he points to me as if to say: “Go!” So I sing the same line again except on the word “Crazy” I go up an octave and sing it like that song “Crazy” from Gnarls Barkley. I repeat, “People think I’m CRAZY!” like the Barkley song. I take over the band, as I am want to do, and sort of signal that I’m gonna take this interlude where no interlude has gone before. I started channeling Freddie Mercury like when he did that little “Day-O” crowd echoing call and response thing at Live Aid in 1995.

“People think I’m CRAZY!” I sing.

“People think I’m CRAZY!” the one hundred thousand or so people respond.

And back and forth we go. It was pretty glorious.

Quite amused, Mick leaned over and yelled in my ear: “I don’t know why you were never in my band and why it took us so long to meet! This is brilliant!”

And instantly, everything was right in the world.

They say during this global pandemic and now with this national unrest that we humans are having extraordinarily vivid and wild dreams.

This was a good one.

Let’s not forget to dream people. Dream of better days. Dream of healing. “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt