Boys of Summer

I can’t tell you how much I love the Beach Boys.  Not the boys themselves, but the notion of them, the thought of them, the aura of them, the smell of Tropicana.  They were my first concert at the Yale Bowl in New Haven, CT a number (!) of years ago.  I learned harmonies from them, and all kinds of other things from them that I could write a book about.   It’s just like when you love a band so much you can’t put your finger on it why.  So anyhow, that’s why I wrote a song about Brian Wilson.  Well, we all did in the basement one night because we were trying to get the bass player to go low enough on a different song, just like the cello in Good Vibrations, and it just spiraled from there.

This is how songs happen people.

So anyhow, we wrote this song about Brian Wilson (from the Beach Boys!) and it’s quite silly, and it’s on our latest album.  I’ve had this outlandish idea about doing a music video on a beach for this song.  It’s called Party on the Beach.

Getting people together to do a music video, when it’s for your band and everything, is pretty much close to impossible but some of us, we still try.  So anyways, there’s been this elaborate plan to shoot a music video, somewhere on a beach in Southeastern Connecticut, maybe at Eastern Point or something, but the logistics involved, the red tape, the permissions, the licenses, and coordination of schedules is so overwhelming, that just like most things in life, I’ve said, “Ah screw it.  What does it matter?”

But alas!  I am an optimist!  Forever hopeful!  There is this slim shiver of hope that a music video will indeed be shot, for no apparent financial or artistic gain, in the coming weeks (and I mean that, summer is short ’round here people) at a beach nereby.  Get in touch if you want in on the fun.  Salut!

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Opening Acts

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine May 2018

As an unknown Indie band, opening for a national act can gain you tons of potential new fans, super bragging rights, and you can write “Shared the Stage With….” on your web site so people think you’re even more awesome than even you think you are.

When you’re on a “bill” at a venue, the first name on the list is the “headliner”, and all the names below it are the “openers.” We were asked to be on the bill at a prestigious venue in New Haven, Connecticut and we jumped at the chance. We got to the place, loaded our stuff in, and got a sound check, which is a rare event for an opener. When we first arrived we were last on the bill, but after impressing the electronic poster people with our awesome sound check, we were magically moved up on the list. The closer you are to the headliner in line, the better you are, I guess. We even had a dressing room, which smelled like Mick Jagger. This place had hosted all kinds of national acts, but had never been cleaned.

Another important factor for determining how far you move up the bill is how well you bark. How well you bark also determines how much money you get in an envelope after your set. Barking is the time-honored and highly-skilled activity, made famous in New York City and Las Vegas, of handing out pieces of paper to people walking by. You hand out pieces of paper to people around the venue in the hopes that they will read your piece of paper, digest what you yelled, i.e., “barked,” into their face, and show up to the venue with the piece of paper.

Our pieces of paper were pink so the more people who showed up with pink pieces of paper, the more money we got and the later we played. We spied most of our pink pieces of paper in garbage bins up and down the street, but we never let it sway us. This is just the way of the world people!

After we had had enough barking, we went back to the venue and hoped for the best. We had to wait in line for our turn on the left side of the stage, with our amps and drum set and guitars, so that when it was our turn, we could get our butts up there real quick like. We got up there, plugged in, tuned, and stopped hyperventilating. The band before us thought it was real cute to climb on top of the house speakers and spew beer from their heavy metal mouths. A lot of beer. So we were sticking to the floor, and I don’t even want to know what kind of gunk got on my purse, and we attempted to put on an energizing and unforgettable show. It was very hard to jump around with all the stickiness, so we just sort of stood there.

We did our thing to a packed crowd, and exited stage right. A couple more bands played and then the main attraction took the stage. These dudes didn’t have to load a thing up there, because their stuff was already magically there. We had been playing in front of “their” Marshall stacks, mic stands, and drum set. They took the stage and we humbly sat with expectation to see who had been bestowed this great honor. To our horror, the main event, the headliner, the big kahuna, was a Van Halen cover band! We had waited twelve hours, and so had the rest of the crowd, for a Van Halen cover band! And since Van Halen did a lot of covers in their day, we were actually opening for a cover band covering a cover band?

Disillusioned, and rather pissed off, we just shook our heads and said, “Well, that’s Connecticut for ya. The Land of the Cover Bands.”

We got some good video footage, a tic on our resume, and zero dollars. Not enough pink pieces of paper they said.

Back when I was still in a cover band, we did ‘50s/’60s music and were “popular.” Some college in Massachusetts thought it was a good idea for us to open for that fictional band from “Animal House” – Otis Day and the Knights.

Because we were such professionals, on our tech rider (that’s the contract where you write things like green M&Ms), we requested water bottles and cut-up fruit. This was living the dream man! The organizers actually delivered, and we were just ecstatic. We got through sound check and the crowd started arriving.

In togas.

Yes, people wrapped in sheets.

John Belushi In 'Animal House'

Apparently, we were in for some kind of a fabricated “Animal House” reunion. With trepidation, we did our thing, and the crowd loved it. Well, they were already quite drunk and actually couldn’t care less who we were or what we played. With the guys in the band trying to focus on the songs, instead of watching all the sheets fall off all the girls, we ended to thunderous applause.

Otis and his band hit the stage, and well, all hell broke loose. By this time, we were really wishing we brought togas, because we looked completely out of place. Otis and company took a break and the crowd started chanting, “Fan-ta-sy, Fan-ta-sy,” (the name of our band) just like “toga, toga, toga, toga….”

I think we got up there and did some more songs to placate the situation, and we were soon told to get the hell off the stage so the “real” band could get back up there. It was all good fun. We got paid, but never saw those people, or that band, or that college, again.

I haven’t figured out how to best word these experiences on the web site yet…

Fish, Pipes & Pandemonium

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine March 2018

Lenten fish dinner specials are my fav. This time of year here on Long Island Sound, everything imaginable is plucked from the sea by dedicated busy fishermen and women in a frenzied free-for-all. Restaurants and grocery stores cook it all up fresh to order, and it’s all on sale. Fridays are super popular but some places push the crustaceans every day for a month, and I love every second of it. Of course the church is to blame for all of this, it being Lent and all, but that’s OK. I’m OK with churches. I grew up singing in church and it’s basically where it all began; until somebody ruined it for me that is. Now I’m pretty much a basket case full of fish sticks every time I’m asked to sing in a church. My nerves rattle the rafters, golden chalices shake and shutter and bells start ringing on their own.

I can narrow it down to one person who ruined it. This person left me with this not-so-good taste in my mouth, you know, not nearly as good as a heaping roll of buttered lobster meat.

Here’s what went down:

I was asked to sing “Ave Maria” for a friend’s wedding and needed to rehearse with the church organist. I arrived on a cold and wintry night and made my way up the secret stairs to the blessed balcony area. I exchanged pleasantries with the typical-looking church organist lady and I began. I decided on a nice and easy Karen Carpenter alto pop version, which is what my friends were looking for. I got to about the eighth measure and she stopped me and said, “Um, have you done much singing?”

I assured her that yes indeed I had.

“You didn’t warm up before our rehearsal then?” she asked.

I assured her that yes indeed I had.

“Well let’s take it again from the top.”

I got to about the fourth measure, she banged the organ a bit and uttered between clenched teeth, “I really have to be honest here. I don’t think you are capable of singing this. I simply can’t allow it. Not in MY church.”

“Well, they really really want this song. It’s either this or the ‘Irish Wedding Song’,” I said.

“Let’s try the ‘Irish Wedding Song’ then,” she said.

So by this time, I was indeed warmed up, and the song went off without a hitch:

“Here they stand, hand in hand

they’ve exchanged wedding bands

today is the day of their dreams and their plans

and all we who love them just wanted to say

May God bless this couple who married today.”

“That will work. ‘Ave Maria’ will not,” church lady said.

“Well maybe we could try it again,” I pleaded. My friends were going to be pissed!

“No.”

2015Simpsons_InAGaddaDaVida060515

And that was that. Church organists think they rule the world! They probably do. So for the rest of eternity, every church organist I encounter is that same scary church organist and I tremble with fear in their midst and my confidence goes out the stained glass window. Just stepping into houses of worship it’s difficult for me to form a syllable. It may sound rather silly but whenever I have to sing in a church, to calm my nerves, I picture an audience of naked church organist ladies to calm down. Somehow, it works. It is what it is.

Years after the ill-fated not in my church night I was asked to sing “Ave Maria” at a funeral, accompanied by guitar, in the funeral home. I was given $180 for two minutes and thirty six seconds of singing – on key and everything.

Conclusion: Some people get me and some people don’t.

As I’ve aged, I often get “When are you going to give up already?” Or like my mother says, “When are you going to grow up?” Or like my father says, “Still trying to be a rock star huh?”

And to them all I say, “I’ll stop when I’m dead.” And whoever sings at my funeral, I’m sure they’ll do just fine. Stick with acoustic guitar accompaniment though, please.

We Not Be Jammin’ Mon

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine October 2017

One of the true pleasures in life is growing old.  You get awesome experiences and wisdom and you get to go to lots of places and do lots of things.  It’s a privilege lots of people don’t get.  Conversely, I could go on and on about how truly horrible it is to grow old, how it’s a drag and all that, but I’ll just focus on one teeny weeny thing.  The tiny insignificant thing is:  my memory.  It just ain’t what it used to be.  Truth be told, I can’t remember sh**.

If I have a yellow stickie telling me to pick up some milk, I’ll pick up some milk.  If I don’t have a yellow stickie, it’s dry cereal and no mash potatoes for you!

This itsy bitsy little problem is why I can’t leave the house for a gig without my Ipad.  I used to have this huge black notebook chock full of lyrics, chord sheets, arrangements, and notes but having dropped the thing resulting in a tangled mess of an un-alphabetized disaster one too many times, and the papers having blown away out to sea at outside gigs one too many times, I finally made the move to this modern electronic memory aid.  It works.

I used to be able to remember things, you know, all kinds of things.  Not no more.

This is my excuse, and I’m sticking with it, why I steer clear of the musical comaraderie-laden team sport known as “OPEN JAMS.”

open_mic_jam

Here’s how it goes down:

It’s a lovely Sunday afternoon (or Monday night, or Tuesday night, or Wednesday night, or Thursday night, or Friday night, or Saturday night.)

Wait a minute – why the heck are there so many open jams anyway?

It couldn’t possibly be because the club owners know they can get free music all night, every night, by hosting “open jams” is it?

Hmmm, duh!

Anywho, you get up there “ready to jam” with a bunch of other people.  Somebody yells out a song.  Everybody starts playing.  Except me that is.  Even if I’ve played the song one thousand times, my puny memory defies me, and there I stand.  Befuddled.  Outcast.  Shamed.  Somebody starts throwing tomatos.  It’s a lonely and isolating catastrophe.  Because as I’ve stated, I can’t remember sh**.

It would defeat the purpose to “jam” with an “open jam” if you have to read what you’re playing.  Or to quickly download the chords, hoping the open jam venue has free wifi, then cheat your way through the songs. I think there’s a law about it.  No good mon.

There is a particular art to “jamming” I suppose.  The ability to make stuff up on the fly is cool I guess.  Having the wherewithal to respond to what the other musicians are laying down and contribute your own awesomeness is… awesome… I think.  It’s a fabulous and free way for audiences to enjoy music, I figure.  Jammers have millions of chord progressions and lyrics in their heads, I presume.

But alas, I steer clear of all things jammin’ mon.  No offense to my fellow musical jammers.  And no offense to you club owners – YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

No Listen No Try

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine September 2017

Solo acoustic artists are a courageous bunch.  They’re alone in a corner, like they did something wrong, playing to an audience that is most likely there for the food or the conversation with their friends.  Venue owners hire musicians to stand in corners so they can get more people to come out to their establishment.   “Live Entertainment Tonight” on the sign outside is better than “Tonight – the Franks and Beans Special.”

These guys playing in corners (and I say guys because most of the time it is a guy and not a girl, but I’ll save that discussion for another column – or maybe a book –  Yes –  a WHOLE book about it – stay tuned,) anyhoo, I’m here to tell you that those guys or rare girl in the corner are not having an easy time.  There’s this time-honored belief that as a performer you’re supposed to “draw the audience in,” “make” them listen, “connect” with them, then you’ll “have them.”  But it’s actually pretty darn hard to get their attention, at all.

And don’t even get me started on the TVs blaring when a performer is trying to perform.  This will be covered in the upcoming book, at length.  TRUST ME.

Some venues are built for entertainment, and they’re different.  Playing in “listening rooms” that have actual written or un-written rules like “Don’t Talk,”  “Be Quiet” or  “Listen” are rare gigs to get.  And they usually don’t pay.  Your “pay” is “exposure.”  Sell your merch.  Get people on your mailing list.  Dream of your big break.

So for most of us who are actually trying to make a living playing music, we get the stand in the corner bar gigs, and hope for the best.

sologuitar

We start the show by scanning the crowd trying to read their minds so we can play something they might like; something that will garner some sort of reaction – a smile, a clap, a hoot or a holler.  Then what that doesn’t work we try to pick just one person out who is glancing our way once in a while and try to figure out what she would like.  We try and we try and we try.

A lucky break is when the audience applauds after every song (because the room goes quiet and they figure it’s the right thing to do.)  But most of the time, we have this strange feeling that they don’t know what we just played.  Or what wonderful high notes we just hit.  Or they can’t appreciate that we spent weeks learning a super difficult chord structure that kills our fingers.  They are too busy talking!  Or eating or whatever.

Playing with a band is different.  You have each other.  You play off one another, you have people to joke with and it’s more like a team sport.  It’s fun.  If nobody’s paying attention, it’s not a big deal.  We’re rockin’ it for our own enjoyment.

When I play solo acoustic, for me, it comes down to this:  If you ain’t listening, I ain’t trying.  I know this perpetuates the problem of trying to get the audience’s attention because you’re actually sucking, but it is what it is.  I can only try so much.

Here’s how a recent scenario went down.

I was sitting in the corner of a bar with my guitar.  Nobody was listening so I closed my eyes and tapped open the chords to a random song on my IPad 2.  The song loaded and off I went.

“It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day

I was out choppin’ cotton, and my brother was balin’ hay” blah blah blah.

I fuddled through two verses and just…stopped.

Some people at the bar erupted with applause.

“Um thanks,” I said.

“That was great!” somebody said.

“But I wasn’t even trying!” I implored.

“But it was great!” they all hollered back.

“What song was it?” I daringly asked.

“Who cares!  It was great!”

See what I’m saying?

So feel our pain people!  Pay attention!  (even if it’s just a little).  Ya never know what you’re missing.

Calluses, Meniere’s, and Large Uvulas

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine October 2016

Like a professional athlete, a professional musician must stay in shape, or else you do things like pass out on stage, pee yourself on stage, or get weird leg cramps in the middle of a gig that make you fall over your guitar amp. So every day I walk my dogs and do these awkward stretches I learned from a 1985 Jane Fonda exercise video. One fine day in 2009 I developed this bizarre ear problem which felt like a head cold, except I did not have a cold. It’s like when you get off an airplane, and you’re walking through the terminal trying to figure out where to get your luggage, and your ears haven’t popped yet. That not-popped-yet feeling is how my ears feel all the time. It comes in handy when my husband starts talking about mortgage rates and kitchen paint colors.

Lots of doctors have lots of theories on this, from Meniere’s Disease, to allergies, to stress, to Rock Star ears. They have also given me lots of drugs. Not one single drug on this entire planet has cleared my ears, and believe me, I have tried them all. They crackle, and itch, and burn and ring – all the time. This may or may not have led to some bad decisions in the recording studio. Cloudy, rainy days are the worst so I figure I must be in-tune with the natural elements, but not so much with pharmaceuticals. On these days I just want to sleep and sleep, but I don’t have time to sleep. I have the day job, and have to cook dinner, learn new songs, have band practice, and all that stuff. On these days, I’m the one who looks like Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” after they shock him.

Doctors also noticed I have an extremely large uvula. That’s the thing that wiggles in the back of your throat.

My friend Tina has known this since the seventh grade. She used to get particular joy out of watching the thing flap back and forth when I laughed. So this medical mystery was no big deal to me. But apparently, it had grown to epic proportions, and was interfering with little things like swallowing, and breathing. On bad days, I take about six Advil to keep it under control. I pretty much feel like I’m going to drop at any time though, especially at night. My monstrous flap of skin sometimes causes me to completely stop breathing so I often wake up reaching for a huge gasp of air. As my friend Rob says, “Well, it must not be life-threatening, because you’re not dead yet.”

The best part about the ear and throat problem is, and yes, there is a best part! – I haven’t had a cold in over two years! All this blockage is well, blocking, the bad stuff. The last time I had a cold I had a gig at the local Borders Book Store, with the purposes of selling my CD of course. There is nothing worse than having to sing with a cold, with all that crap running down your face and sounding like that comedian Gilbert Gottfried with the whiny voice. So it was basically, the worst gig ever. People sat in the comfy chairs, and kept reading, and tried hard to ignore me, and silently begged for me to go away. I have not been back to a Borders in any town. I blame it on their own bankruptcy.

So in addition to the constant ear and throat problems, in this poor, poor, pitiful me column, are the DAMN CALLUSES guitar players must deal with! I don’t know if there are any books on this subject, but man oh man are these things a pain in the butt! I am constantly peeling off pieces of skin and leaving them everywhere – I mean everywhere. When you play guitar, you have to constantly press the strings against solid wood. If you think this is painless you are wrong! The more you play, the harder the skin on the tips of your fingers become, and everything eventually becomes less painful. But here’s the kicker – if you peel off the calluses in between gigs or practice sessions, you have to start all over with the callous building. It’s a vicious cycle that never ever ends!

My living room floor always looks like there’s potato chip crumbs everywhere, when in fact, it’s just all my dead skin.

There are also a number of other physical ailments that crop up out of nowhere the older I get. There’s this pain that goes up and down my right leg and into my back. It makes it uncomfortable to sit, lie down, or stand still. So I pace back and forth a lot which keeps the dogs and my audiences entertained. I do a lot of moaning and groaning in the night, which keeps my husband entertained. A guy told me it’s my sciatic nerve and he showed me an exercise for it. You lie down on your back, cross your right leg over your left leg making a triangle, then lift your left leg up and hold it there. Yes it’s as awkward as it sounds. I think he just wanted to look up my shorts.

I also can’t see very well anymore. This comes in handy when I start the wrong song on a set list and I yell, “Sorry! I couldn’t see!”

One time I had a urinary tract infection, also known as a UTI, also known as worse than pushing out septuplets all day and all night for a week while you try to eat, cook for everybody else, take care of the dogs, and go about your daily life while convincing yourself you can survive a simple bladder problem. It had burned and hurt when I peed for five days and when I couldn’t pee at all and was completely bloated and near death I went to the doctor. When you go to the doctor with a UTI you have to be able to pee in a cup so the girl with no gloves on can pick it up and look at it and tell the doctor you need the good drugs. You know you really want the good drugs so you try really hard to pee in the cup. I fill the cup and I am proud. I was given some meds, and sent on my way.

I had a gig that night, and it was going to be a long one: Two and a half hours for setup, a three and a half hour show, then another hour and a half breakdown. I was thrilled. Throughout the night whenever I had to pee I just had to psych myself out by chanting “You’re peeing in the cup for the doctor, you’re peeing in the cup for the doctor, you’re peeing in the cup for the doctor.” If I didn’t chant those words I would just get more bloated and start to crouch when I walked. Nobody wants to look at a bloated and crouchy lead singer so I got it done.

The show went fine and no one knew I was dying in front of their eyes.

Then I got Lyme Disease.

When you live in the Northeast, everybody gets Lyme Disease, or you know 10 people who’ve had Lyme Disease, and everybody’s always checking themselves for Lyme Disease more than they’re checking themselves for ticks in the first place. The residual effects of this lovely disease never truly go away so your normal aches and pains are just magnified times ten and make you super tired, blah blah blah. Band practice tonight? Heck no! Write some songs today? Heck no! Gig tonight? THE SHOW MUST GO ON. Stay healthy people! (If that’s even a thing.)