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

 

Dried Up

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine May 2020

I popped open my green bottle of CoverGirl Clump Crusher mascara for the first time in 48 days just to see how she was doing and as expected, she was all dried up.  Desiccated.  Dehydrated.  Juiceless.  Useless.  Every day for my entire life since I was about 13 I had covered my eyelashes with the gooey stuff (for reasons decidedly unknown) in order to face the world.  It’s a thing we girls do.  But during a global pandemic with stay-at-home orders and such, who cares about our eyelashes?  There’s no one to show them off to.  Why did we ever care so much about our eyelashes anyway?

mascara

I pondered adding new makeup to my ever-growing Amazon cart or risking life and limb with a trip to the petri dish of the local CVS.  But just for a moment.  IT JUST DIDN’T MATTER.  Not one iota.

That’s the thing with this virus.  Some things just no longer matter.  The clothes you wear, the condition of your hair, the over-priced makeup.  I imagine that some people may be struggling with the lack of opportunities to show off their impeccable taste and finesse with garnering a well-put-together outward appearance, but alas, nobody’s looking at anybody.  We’re barely looking each other in the eye as we slither past six feet apart.  Who cares if it’s day three of the same yoga pants?  We’re alive.  So far.

The reason I bring up the dried-up mascara is tragically because I too am dried up.  Musically that is.  I just can’t seem to find the joy in any of it.  It just makes me sad.

During a global pandemic it’s common knowledge, because we’re all such experts now, that humans are expected to do all the things they’ve always wanted to.  Take the time and really appreciate the little things.  Learn to cook.  Learn to garden.  Read books. Enjoy your family.  Listen to music.

I haven’t done a freakin’ thing.  I’ve picked up my guitar maybe twice.  I’m so joyful-music-deprived that when I drove to the Kentucky Fried Chicken drive-through to get the biggest bucket of finger-lickin’ goop they had, when the radio played NSYNC’s’ “Bye Bye Bye” I cranked it up as high as it would go and bopped and danced in my car like a freakin’ lunatic.  But it only lasted three minutes.  Then I was in face-masked and hand sanitizer mode to complete the transaction through the window and the joy went “Bye Bye Bye.”

Times are tough people.

I think the earth is just rebooting.  Remember those butter commercials “It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature?”  She is in charge whether we want to believe it or not.  She’s not out to kill the seven billion that we are, but she appears to be very interested in cleaning up the pollution.  Look at the scenes from big cities and the views they have now.  India can now see Mount Everest for the first time in 30 years.  There aren’t many cars around and not many mascara bottles clogging up the dumps.  Or maybe she does want the animals to rule again so we become one big happy  animal planet.  Have you seen the wild animals roaming the streets?  That brings a tad of joy.  Like the cops who had to chase a wild pig through a neighborhood.  That’s funny stuff right there!

I suppose we’ll eventually get back to normal, get over all the sadness and come back more appreciative, less worried about how we look, and care more about how we treat our fellow humans.  And the music will play on.  Because in the end, in the immortal words of AC/DC, “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.”

So rock on, stay safe and healthy, we’ll get back at it soon.

Pandemonium

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine April 2020

For my musician friends: I know you all have been bombarded with emails and newspaper articles on “what to do if you are an out of work musician during this global pandemic.”

It’s disconcerting, worrisome and can make you feel out of sorts, especially those whose only income is playing live music, teaching music and playing music with others.

Here are 13 Things Musicians Can do During a Global Pandemic:

  1. Stream yourself via Facebook Live from your living room. Set up a “stage” with some ambience and let her rip. Include your Venmo account for tips.
  2. If you’re in a cover band, find your old email list or send a Facebook event asking your fans for song requests your band can learn during this downtime.
  3. Listen to music you don’t usually listen to.
  4. Scour YouTube to find new tips and tricks.
  5. Order a new pedal or piece of gear from Amazon.
  6. Watch Broadway musicals via the BroadwayDirect streaming service.
  7. Write some songs.
  8. Remind your fans where and how to buy your previously released music.
  9. Read some famous musician biographies.
  10. Read novels with a musical theme.
  11. Call an old band mate or music teacher out of the blue, on the phone. Better yet, use Zoom for a video chat and social distancing band practice.
  12. Make an NPR Tiny Desk concert and submit it for consideration.
  13. Create a YouTube channel and record yourself playing one song at a time and release one a day. It will give you a reason to get out of bed.

“Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune; but great minds rise above them.” – Washington Irving.

Desperados

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine March 2020

We musicians can be a desperate bunch. We act like “we’re all that” but we’re really not. We desperately want to show off our stuff because there’s some inner drive within us that does not end and continually calls to us. We take gigs at questionable venues because people nicely ask. We fill in for somebody who’s sick even though we’ve probably got what they got. We spend our last dime to fix an amp because the show must go on. We play outside in sweltering hot conditions because we already committed. We troll the internet looking for open jams. We throw bands together and practice for months to play one special private show. We look up songs on our iPads and play them on the fly because an audience member begged for it. We’re not so sure we have a clue what we’re doing or why.

Or, like I (numero uno desperado) recently did, we take last minute outdoor gigs knowing it is going to be 36 degrees out with a chance of snow.

Desperados.

Though precautions were taken to ensure the success of putting on the most wonderful of shows, it was, in the nicest of terms, a sh*t show. Firstly, and unbeknownst to me, wearing a hat that covers your ears, in order to keep warm, blocks, well, your ears, and you can’t hear the monitor. Yelling and screaming at the sound man inevitably ensues. Secondly, wearing nice warm winter gloves when playing guitar as you can imagine, is not possible. I could have purchased fingerless gloves, but there was no time. Thus, my fingers froze. I had a little portable heater with me but even laying my hands directly on the device (as outlined in the directions is something you just absolutely shouldn’t be doing) didn’t do sh*t to warm my fingers. Here’s an experiment for you all: Put your hands into a nice, big fresh bowl of freezing ice water. Hold them there for about 10 minutes. Find a guitar pick or something similar, like a toothpick. Can you grasp it? Hold onto it? Act like you’re strumming? Does the item keep falling out of your grip? Okay, keep trying. After about 10 minutes you may be able to hold onto the thing. Great! Now, stick your hands back into the cold water for another 10 minutes. Repeat the steps above. Now, repeat the steps above for three hours. Fun isn’t it? Feel like a rock star? Thirdly, there’s the constant runny nose when out in 36-degree weather with a chance of snow. I won’t go into the details here, but it’s pretty hard to keep on singing with that stuff running down your face.

Desperados.

Every time I agree to these questionable things I say the same thing to myself: NEVER AGAIN. How many times have I said that to myself? About 36 million times. Including the time(s) I said yes to playing on the back of an Irish Parade float. But that’s another story…

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! See ya out there!

 

Stars

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine February 2020

Every Winter in New England I go outside onto my deck and look up. The stars are so bright this time of year. I see Orion’s Belt, the Little Dipper and as if on cue, I turn to my left and see the Big Dipper. In high school, I received an A+ in Astronomy (don’t fact check me!) as I was quite fascinated in what else was out there. I loved Star Trek, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind… all of it. The course itself called for a lot of math and physics with discussions around clouds of dust and nebula and gravitational attraction, protostars, the Milky Way (such an awesome candy bar) and nuclear fusion and hydrogen and helium. Astronautical things. Rocket Science. I thought stars were so cool to look at (while actually superhot inside their core). They’re shiny and bright and they twinkle. They stay alive for hundreds of billions of years. But what I remember most through my studies was how I felt: incredibly indelibly irreversibly teensy-weensy; you know…small. There’s a whole lotta stuff up there and I’m just me. I’m just particles and atoms and molecules bouncing off each other, as it were.

Gazing up at the stars, I pondered things. I wondered, so what makes a rock star? An athletic star? A star CEO? A star politician? Particles and atoms and molecules yes, but what else is it? What astronomical reactions are at play? Some would say what makes the human kind of stars are charisma, talent, likability, accomplishments, notoriety, personality and such. The majority of the humans who come in contact with these “stars” agree they are indeed, stars. So therefore, we call them stars.

In the music biz sometimes we call each other “rock stars” I think to make us feel better about ourselves, to not feel so insignificantly small. But the truth of the matter is, everybody can’t be a star. There’s not enough room on the planet. Or is there? I think if you want to be a star, whatever your field, if you simply allow the things inside your soul (what is a soul made out of?) to come out freely and truly, to want to be somebody, to want to “matter,” you can become, the perfect human star, whether or not the majority of people in the universe agree with your own assessment.

I like stars. I used to want to be one (the Rock Star kind.) But now I’m happy with a nice warm meal once in a while, plenty of toilet paper and a couple gigs a month. You can go ahead and call me a Rock Star if you want though.

stars

 

Hope

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine January 2020

I heard a hootin’ owl howling out my window last night, just like the song, “She went calling Wild Flower…,” the one with the epic piano coda at the end. In the song, the singer thinks that because he hears a hootin’ owl that his long-lost love will come back to him and they will both go riding on the horse Wildflower. He’s heard it three nights in a row so it must be true! For decades, because this guy said so, I thought hearing owls was some sort of good luck. As the sweet mystical sound echoed through my backwoods on a foggy Connecticut evening, I thought, OK, this is it. Something really good is going to happen.

Oh you silly bird.

Upon further investigation, I discovered that hearing a hootin’ owl is actually a BAD omen, as owls are believed to be harbingers of death.

Who knew?

Now that the holidays are over, and our holiday hopes and dreams and wishes upon a star are over, it’s time to get real. My hootin’ owl is definitely not going to bring me oodles of good fortune, so it’s high time I figure something else out. Or perhaps, except my fate.

When we’re young we feel invincible and we are sure beyond a doubt that everything we want is going to come to us if we just work hard enough. If you can see it, you can be it, as it were. That sort of thing. But as we get older, and we’ve worked and we’ve worked but still things haven’t worked out the way we had envisioned, and we find out the hard way that little things like luck and hootin’ owls bringing luck ain’t so easy to come by, or is just misguided thinking, our hopes diminish, our dreams scale down. We graduate from the School of Hard Knocks. We get real.

I watched the musical fantasy “Rocketman” about Elton John and I pondered, if fame had found me, would I have turned into an alcoholic cocained bloody nosed drug addict who would down a bunch of pills and jump into a pool in a suicide attempt in front of a ton of family and friends? Or would I have just taken it in stride like Springsteen? Would I have built an amusement park like Dollywood?

Anyhoo, because I’m hopelessly stubborn, and will probably never know that answer, I will continue to play gigs, write songs, drop new albums, work on my skills and try out new gear, until I’m as stiff as a stuffed owl.

“A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.” – Maya Angelou

By the way, hootin’ and howlin’ will still be encouraged at all shows.

Thank you and good night.

owl.jpg

 

Good Girls and Boys

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine December 2019

As year-end approaches, we humans tend to ponder things, as we are slaves to our calendars, apple watches, and cell phone alarms. Tis the season to wonder why everything went so wrong the past 365 days, or why everything went so right. Today I’m mulling over, over my mulled cider: What is a GOOD Musician? Is a good musician someone who is highly trained who attended the very best performing arts collegiate programs? Is a good musician someone who can throw down Hark! The Herald Angels Sing on a dusty old piano at a holiday gathering with precision and grace? Is a good musician someone who can solo over just about anything? Is a good musician someone who can harmonize? Sing on key? Memorize 40 songs? Write lyrics that rhyme? Wow the crowd with rock faces and acrobatic stunts?

I offer, because I’ve already consumed all my green icing sugared reindeer cookies because I friggin’ love those things, the following examples of good little musician girls and boys:

– People who perform at gala benefit shows not for the exposure and to get their name in the paper, but because they actually care about the cause

– People who use their break time at a show to teach a kid a few tricks on guitar

– People who share ALL their tricks with other musicians

– People who lend all their gear to a band because all their stuff was stolen while loading out on a freezing cold December night

– People who give their extra instruments to someone who’s house burned down

– People who fill in for other musicians when somebody unexpectedly contracts the flu or feels just plain yucky

– People who play songs the crowd actually came to hear (besides Mustang Sally of course!)

– People who show up to band practice on time and prepared

– People who understand that it’s not about you, it’s about the listeners

– People who are humble and grateful

This is simple stuff here people. I want to wish you all the hap-hap-happiest of holidays – and see ya at the shows!

reindeer

 

World Series of Rock

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine November 2019

We couldn’t believe it, but my sister and I had finally secured a gig at Madison Square Garden. Years of music business drudgery and beaten down dreams had come to this. On the day, we were carted into a secret entrance that led to plaque-covered walls listing the names of all those that had come before us. Posters from epic shows of the past came to life as we realized we were now one of them. A fully stocked dressing room complete with hair and makeup experts awaited us. We could hear the chants and roars and pounding from the sold-out crowd of 20,000 getting louder and louder. We glanced over our set list one more time. We did our weird vocal exercises, sprayed our throats and sucked on cough drops. We stretched our legs and abs and did neck circles. While the sound crews and lighting techs made their final tweaks, we were escorted backstage to stand behind a luxurious black velvet curtain. Like magic, the curtain rose while the crowd noise surged to a deafening crescendo. We took a deep breath and walked slowly and assuredly toward our speckled gold microphones. We inhaled, looked at each other and sang our first harmonized note, perfectly in tune, with strength and resilience. The crowd went wild.

Except that never happened. Not even close.

But that feeling, that we were on stage at Madison Square Garden to a sold-out crowd, was precisely the feeling we had when we learned our brother, after years of sports business drudgery and beaten down dreams, was headed to the 2019 Major League Baseball World Series. THE SHOW. THE BIG DANCE.

That actually happened.

You see, when someone you love achieves something so awesome, so well-deserved, so unexpected, you feel it inside just like they do. We had watched our brother grow, literally, from the time he was 3-foot high to a grasshopper when our Dad had first started playing catch with him in our backyard in Florissant, Missouri. Our brother had done it all, tried it all, and somehow had persevered to reach the epitome of what it means to love the game of baseball. His team was in the World Series.

Our whole family was right there with him every step of the way. When batters were down in the count, we were down in the count. When a tater blasted fair out to the upper decks, we flew along with it. When he was in a bus with a police escort, we were in the next seat over. When he had to face the press and explain himself, we telepathically sent him hope that he wouldn’t mess up. When he looked stressed in the dugout, we were stressed. When he had to stay up til 1 a.m. due to extra innings, we stayed up. When they won, we won. When they lost, we lost.

I don’t have to tell you sports fans what I’m talking about when you love your team, especially when your team makes it to the World Series, or the Superbowl, or the World Cup Finals or the Stanley Cup Finals. Phrases such as WE did this and WE did that are the norm when talking sports. WE must win this one. I can’t believe WE screwed that up. Even though us fans are literally sitting in our chairs or in the stands doing nothing, it’s OUR TEAM. We are IN THIS together.

Because inherently, when someone you love, or a team you love, achieves their ultimate dream, stretches human performance to extremes, it makes us all feel like anything is possible. We feel better about ourselves and, perhaps, maybe think about never giving up on our own dreams and staying in the fight.

How would my brother feel if his sisters did get a gig at the Garden? I would imagine like he had just won the World Series.

nats

Intestinal Fortitude

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine October 2019

No matter which musical level we’re on, it takes an inner strength beyond our talent and years of practiced skill to get through a show. No matter what our problems and distractions are, if we’re paid to be on stage, the show must go on. Nobody wants to have a meltdown or see a meltdown. Nobody wants to be a nervous ninny or be forced to watch one. There are countless talented people in the world whose gifts shall never see the light of day because of the affliction we call “stage fright.” In other words, they just don’t have the guts to get out there.

It’s a sad truth, but even the Wizard of Oz’s Lion figured out eventually how to reach for courage. Ya just gotta go for it. The fearless prevail, always, and in all things.

When not a single soul is paying attention to your talent in the corner, and the bar manager says you can just stop if you want, you go deep, and keep going.

When you’re Taylor Swift and there’s a hundred thousand people in the audience waiting on your next move, you bring it.

When you’re the barbershop quartet at Magic Kingdom and it’s 100 degrees out with 100 percent humidity and you can barely breathe never mind hold the high note, you take a deep breath and hold the high note.

When you’re the main stage band at Animal Kingdom, in the same oppressive weather, and you have to jump around on stage to keep the crowd interested, while dying, you worry about dying later.

When you’ve got your first gig with a new band and you freeze trying to sing the song “Freeze Frame” by J. Geils, you un-freeze yourself and get going on the not that difficult after all lyrics.

When your guitar string breaks in the middle of a song in the middle of a high-profile gig, you play around those notes and make it work.

And at the scariest moment of all, performing at your first school recital, you just look out at mom and dad and hope the ice cream is coming soon.

The same can be said for dancers, athletes and actors. The difference is always how you handle the butterflies in your stomach; the gut-wrenching fear of public failure. To perform, it just takes guts. Or as I like to say, intestinal fortitude, and it makes all the difference.

I like to take the opportunity during the Halloween season to brush up on my anti-scaredy-pants skills. I watch scary movies. I go to haunted houses. I light eerie candles. I eat questionable candy. It’s all part of my personal fortification plan. Somebody’s gotta do this stuff! Happy Halloween!

pumpkin