2008

January 2008

Howdy, Friends!

“I have not failed. I have found ten thousand ways that won’t work.”     Thomas Edison   (1847 – 1931)

Still working on the record and feeling pretty darned good about it. It’s exciting, scary, challenging and liberating all at once. I’ll keep you posted.

Happy New Year! This one is starting off a little differently than I had planned. You see, I’m a bit under the weather. At my worst, I’ve been bed-ridden. And it bites.

Somehow I’ve managed to keep my brain out of the dumps (for the most part) during this bout. I’m sick. So what? Hey, how can I not acknowledge that I woke up today? I get another day! I get to see the dawn of a whole new year! Yippee! (Cough, cough, hack, hack…)

I had hoped to be in fine fettle at this year’s start, eager to move my body and get to work and play with full focus and commitment. That was Plan A. Lucky for me, I’m well-versed at moving on to Plan B (and sometimes Plan C, D, etc.).

So I’m starting this New Year from my couch instead of on my feet. So what? I’ll be better soon. I’ll be back in the studio. I’ll be trying to make the best record I can and live the best life I can. And, you know what? Not everything I try will work. That’s cool. As long as I get to wake to a new day, I get to try, try again.

I do hope you’re starting your New Year as the picture of good health. And if you happen to come across a gal who’s a sneezing fool with a great, big, goofy grin on her face, wish her a Happy New Year. She’s doing the best she can. Just like everyone else.

Best–

Mikki Brisk

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February 2008

Howdy, Friends!

“The best work is not what is most difficult for you; it is what you do best.”     Jean-Paul Sartre   (1905–1980)

So I’m working on this record and it’s all the cool things it should be. It is also full of growth pains and anxiety. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

The process may be a bit different from what you imagine. Some folks think you go in and all the various band members play the songs through together and there you go. To be fair, a lot of bands do just that in studios that are set up for such recording. Instead, I go in and lay down an acoustic guitar track (which may or may not end up on the final song). I then add what’s called a “scratch” vocal, meaning it’s only a template and will probably be replaced later on by a “master” vocal track. (My scratch vocals sometimes make the final cut and aren’t re-done.) After that, drums and bass are cut, usually at the same time. Then we layer lead guitar, followed by any other instrumentation (horns, organ, etc.). Finally, we add the lead and backing vocals. It may sound arduous but it’s actually quite orderly.

On some songs, I am crystal-clear as to what I want from each instrument/voice. That’s the case with a very cool track called “Devil A Ride” and I love the way it’s turning out. On other songs, I’m a bit more muddy and pray (literally) for some direction as to what will best serve the song. I’m working with a brilliant co-producer who brings multiple gifts to the process. That helps matters quite a bit. Still, it doesn’t always work out.

You see, the goal isn’t to make me sound good. (I mean, duh, I want to sound good!) The goal is to give each song its own beautiful life. You’ve got to serve the song. That’s all there is to it. And we’re doing our best to achieve that honorable goal. We’ve gotten off on the right foot on a few songs, sometimes by serendipity. And we’ve had to go back to the drawing board for other songs. It’s hard to bring a song (my “baby”) to life only to have to sacrifice it when it’s not turning out the way I’d hoped. But that’s art. No one said creation was easy.

I can hardly wait for you to hear this new work. It’s such a great mix of Rock & Roll and Memphis Soul. Well, that’s my goal anyway. At the end of all these growing pains, I expect I’ll have matured into owning these songs. Right now, they own me.

Best–

Mikki Brisk

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March 2008

Howdy, Friends!

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear — not absence of fear.”     Mark Twain   (1835–1910)

My friend Otto has run off to join the circus.

I exaggerate. Otto is not only a gifted instrumentalist, he is also a talented composer of original circus music. As it happens, a traveling circus (that licenses and uses Otto’s circus compositions) is in dire need of someone to work the behind-the-scenes action for a few weeks. Otto has graciously agreed to put his life on hold in order to go and help out the circus’ owner during his time of need.

This particular circus owner is dealing with a lot right now, all of it pointing to the approaching demise of his traveling show. The economy is keeping folks from coming out for the entertainment. Fuel costs are making it harder to get around the country. Maintaining and paying for the circus’ talent is no doubt impacted as well. All of these problems are surely leaving the circus owner with quite a bit of fear as to what his future holds.

Enter Otto. When he got the call from the circus owner, he had a million reasons to turn down the guy’s plea for help: he’d have to give up work (and the resulting income) for a couple of weeks; he’d have to figure out how to pay his bills while not in town; he’d have to skip out on the care of the family members who depend on him regularly. I’m guessing there was a bit of fear involved about up and heading off to “join the circus” as well. But Otto had one big, heavy reason to answer his friend’s call for help: loyalty. This particular circus owner has been a loyal and honest friend. He has always respected Otto’s music and done right by paying Otto for the use of said compositions. According to Otto, this may be the only circus in America using original music for its shows. Otto respects what his friend is trying to do with the circus and knew he couldn’t leave him in the lurch. So he took off a few days ago and will be with the circus for a few weeks, helping them to keep the show going.

There’s this great Patty Griffin song called “No Bad News.” One of my favorite lines from the tune is “We won’t be afraid to be alive anymore.” Isn’t that awesome? Doesn’t it just sum up how we’d all like to go about our days? The circus owner is walking through his fear in hope of bringing some joy to small-town America for just one more season. Otto is walking through his fear in hope of being a good friend and maybe having an adventure to boot.

As far as I can tell, fear is only useful in keeping us from walking alone down dark alleys. It serves no other useful purpose. So here’s my question for myself and I hope you can ask yourself as well: if I could walk through my fear, what would I attempt in this beautiful and all-too-short life?

Best–

Mikki Brisk

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April 2008

Howdy, Friends!

“I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.”     Mother Teresa   (1910–1997)

Just to catch you up: Recording continues and it’s awesome. I mean it. It’s so flippin’ hard and so flippin’ good. I’m living a dream. Don’t wake me.

I recently celebrated a birthday (thank you, and many happy returns to you as well). That particular occasion requires one to ALLOW others to give. I may not want anyone to go to the trouble of a celebration or the giving of a gift. But because I understand the desire to give to those I love and care for, I have to allow others to bestow the same upon me. It’s not always as easy as it probably should be.

And it’s gotten me thinking about whether or not I’m in the receiving mode of life. I know the Universe is incredibly patient with me and waiting to shower more and more blessings down upon me. But am I ready or able to receive those blessings?

I think that when we refer to the Mother Teresa quote above, we generally think of it in terms of darkness or pain. But what about light and joy? If we’re not ready, in full receiving mode, can we truly take on life’s goodness? Will God or the Universe just open a nice book and wait for us to get our acts together? What if we take too long?

On that point, I have no fear. I don’t think we can take too long. (Unless of course we don’t ever come round to our portion of joy and this whole, magnificent life passes us by.) And I don’t think that our own impatience applies to the greater powers that be. Impatience is a trait of humans, not of Omnipotence. We’re pretty magnificent and all, but we’re not all that. (Well, maybe a few souls are ALL THAT. Something to aspire to.) Heaven knows, I’m not there yet. But hey, I love the journey. And the journey is truly ALL THAT.

So I’m trying to let go of my fears/doubts/lack of self-esteem and open my arms as wide as possible. My imperfect life is already a blessing. I think I’m ready for even more. Go ahead… Make a wish.

Best–

Mikki Brisk

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May 2008

Howdy, Friends!

 ”The eyes of the soul of the multitudes are unable to endure the vision of the divine.”     Plato   (427–347 B.C.)

I was just in the studio yesterday and will be back in again in a few days. Things are really getting exciting now. A few songs are ready for final vocals and a few more just need some extra detail and then they’ll be ready for vocals, too. It’s a crazy trip I’m having.

When I was a kid, I wanted to work in music. I wasn’t quite clear as to how that might come to pass. I loved to sing and thought I was pretty good at it. I wrote a lot of poetry, but wasn’t confident enough to try writing music. I had a vague goal and absolutely no idea how to proceed in its direction.

Some days, I don’t feel much different from the kid I once was. My goal is a bit clearer, and I suppose my path isn’t quite so dark either. Still, sometimes it’s as if I’m wearing goggles and they’ve fogged over. And that old snorkeler’s trick of rubbing spit on the lens isn’t helping (not to mention unseemly when you’re not in the water).

I live in a section of L.A. that allows me the privilege of seeing part of the Verdugo Mountains from my home. I can sit on my couch and look at the hills. Sometimes. There are a lot of days when the smog is so bad, I can’t see much at all. And then — with no warning — a cleansing wind will blow through and the mountains reappear, crystal clear. I’m always amazed at how beautiful and striking those hills are, though I’ve seen them thousands of times before.

The fog lifts. The picture is suddenly in focus. I actually have a clue how to proceed.

Sometimes.

Best–

Mikki Brisk

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June 2008

Howdy, Friends!

“Life is a series of surprises, and would not be worth taking or keeping, if it were not.”     Ralph Waldo Emerson   (1803–1882)

While I’m working to get this ding-danged record finished, I’m also on the lookout for inspiration. To that end, I’ve been asking the Universe to “surprise me.” Most days I remember TO ask. On those days, you never know what will pop up. Last night’s outing counts as major poppage…

I heard about a young guy’s senior recital at UCLA. His plan was to merge music and food (two of my favorite things) in a show where each musical piece would be tied to a particular dish. There was a suggested donation but otherwise the event was free (can’t beat that with a stick). After my RSVP was confirmed, I trucked it to the Westwood campus with no expectations. I mean, how could I possibly know what would go down?

Talk about cool — the kid pulled it off. There were 8 courses and 8+ pieces of music performed by various musicians throughout the evening. Not only did the kid blow a mean trumpet, he also played piano and did a couple of original compositions that were just lovely. We saw horns, tablas, tap-dancing (!), accordion, spoken word and classical guitar. There was a considerable amount of talent on the stage, with as much potential to match. And it was a real treat to nibble while listening to the tunes. But the thing that really blew my mind was the attraction to the right of the stage: a visual artist working to create a unique piece during each song. This was truly “performance art.” The guy had an enormous light box and he would start to paint on it once the music began. He painted according to how he was moved by the music. We all watched him create some amazing, beautiful and thought-provoking pieces. And once the song was finished, he’d stand back, take a photo of his work and then he’d wipe it all down. He literally destroyed his own art.

It was an awesome process really. It got me thinking about impermanence and how we often strive against it. Here’s a guy who works in a medium that seems to demand permanence, much like musical recordings. But he’s figured out how to let go. If I could paint like that, I’m not sure I could destroy the work. I mean, he’s really good (check him out: http://www.nortonwisdom.com/). His last name’s Wisdom. Maybe there’s no coincidence there.

Anyway, it was a great outing and I definitely got a dose of inspiration. I’ve gotta remember to ask for that “surprise” each day because when I do, it’s just like that graduating UCLA senior: too cool for school.

Best–

Mikki Brisk

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July 2008

Howdy, Friends!

 ”O this learning, what a thing it is!”     William Shakespeare   (1564-1616)

While riding this wave that is my life, I sometimes endeavor to improve myself, to acquire new skills: maybe something like learning to produce a record (which is working out), or perhaps learning to speak a new language (which has not gone so well). I don’t always succeed, but I do try. And I suppose that counts for something.

All my groping in the dark for new tricks does nothing to diminish my pre-existing abilities. We are all good at a few things. Maybe they’re practiced pursuits or maybe they’re God-given gifts. The crazy thing is, I’m not sure where I acquired some of my so-called gifts.

Take cooking as an example. I’m really good at it. And while I know I’ve worked at it, I’m not sure there was ever a magic moment when I crossed over from average to above-average. There was no “a-ha” or “eureka.” I’ve just gotten better over time (and continue to do so, despite an occasional blunder). But that’s not even the skill, as far as I’m concerned. Here’s where the gift comes in: I am brilliant at reading recipes and deciding if there’s something there. I mean it. I read cookbooks for fun and can tell when something’s worth trying. 9 times out of 10 I’m right.

And then there’s grapefruit. I can wield a grapefruit knife like a citrus master. Seriously, I expect there will someday be a statue of me, gazing lovingly at the fruit in my left hand while my right hand comfortably holds a grapefruit knife. I’m guessing these sorts of statues are erected in places like Florida, where the fruits are grown. As this statue will, in all likelihood, be forged after my passing, I will never see it. Just knowing my gift will be recognized by the citrus-eating masses is enough.

I’ve been told that as a child I was highly allergic to grapefruit. Any time I ate it, my mouth would break out in painful blisters that took quite a while to subside. Still I was not deterred. The forbidden fruit was kept from me, but I sought it out, much to my mouth’s delight and chagrin. I liked it so much that I decided it was worth the pain.

There’s also been a bit of pain in learning my newly sought skills, but I think it’s worth it. I continue to get better at producing my music. The record is turning out even better than I had dreamed. Honestly, it’s been only a little pain. And so much gain.

As for learning a new language, I think the next time I take a class I’ll show up with my grapefruit knife in tow. You never know, the confidence it takes to wield that tool may give me a boost in the language-learning arena. “Una ragazza può sognare!”

Best–

Mikki Brisk

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August 2008

Howdy, Friends!

 ”This music is forever for me. It’s the stage thing, that rush moment that you live for. It never lasts, but that’s what you live for.”    Bruce Springsteen   (b. 1949)

Sometimes I feel like a broken record. A broken record. A broken record.

I want to be able to tell you my CD is finished, but I’m not there yet. I want to give you a sample of the music, but I’m not there yet. I’ve been going on and on (and on) about this project and I’m still not there yet. What the hey?

I am fully aware of the subject line of these little monthly emails. I’m also certain you’re aware of the fact that my ramblings have very little to do with an actual “music update” and more to do with my observations / experiences in the moment. It would seem I am more able to share my thoughts than my music.

For now. I assure you – I am working on the record. And as impatient as I am, I must admit it’s coming along quite nicely. Tracking is done (including vocals) on 5 of 11 songs and I’m so excited about the record’s progression. “Work” is a four-letter word. So is “love.” I can honestly say I love my work. Impatience be damned.

Remember “Veruca Salt” in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and how she wanted a goose that laid golden eggs “Nowwwwwww, Daddy!”? Well, I’m certainly not that bad. (And I do hope I’m not “a bad egg” either.) I’m just trying to learn to have patience. I’ll keep working. I’ll keep trying for that elusive virtue. I’m just not there yet.

Best–

Mikki Brisk

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September 2008

Howdy, Friends!

“Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don’t you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don’t you say something righteous and hopeful for a change? “

Oddball” as played by Donald Sutherland in “Kelly’s Heroes”

(1970)

I’m floating. Maybe it’s the now-finished Olympic Games. Maybe it’s the whirling of American elections. Maybe it’s my recent upgrade to a suite in Las Vegas.

After driving 11 hours from Denver, Colorado to Nevada last week, I was poised to be less than energetic and upbeat while checking in to my hotel in Vegas. But for some reason, the dark cloud didn’t take. Instead I was just danged happy to be chatting with “Serenita” at the Mandalay Bay front desk. And to my surprise, she seemed to enjoy chatting with my road-weary, wrinkled clothes, no make-up-wearing self. Next thing I knew, I was in my sumptuous, luxurious suite (thank you, Serenita). The swank was palpable, people!

The whole experience got me thinking about how it pays to be positive. And that line of thinking led my brain to take a dog-leg left down memory lane. Destination: Jay Nottrott.

When I was in the seventh grade in rural Georgia, I had a boyfriend named Jay Nottrott. Jay was a preacher’s son and he was so good and true, it showed in his skin and hair. I mean it — he glowed. Well, he did to me.

Anyway, Jay and I were a steady deal for a while and then one day, as he walked me to the bus after school, I had to go and ruin it all. As we stood there at the school entrance, I looked around and noticed how far away my bus was and said, “Oh, no! My bus is all the way at the end of the line!” Jay hung his head and told me that was the last straw. He said I complained too much and that I always saw the negative in everything. He not only broke up with me, he also broke my heart.

I’ve never forgotten his words and through the years I’ve worked hard to make up for that day’s complaint. It hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes I fail miserably. Other times, I not only manage to put a smile on a given situation, I actually ground myself in positivity. And that’s what I did upon check-in in Las Vegas. I pushed the tired and dusty parts of myself aside and instead I chose to hone in on the light of the woman and moment before me.

I’m still working. On the record. On me. On everything. And as I do so, I send my best vibes out to Jay Nottrott, no matter where he may be in the world. Since he shined so brightly as a young boy, I can only imagine how he must surely glow now.

Best–

Mikki Brisk

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October 2008

Howdy, Friends!

 ”I’m still trying to figure out who I am. I think I’m Jewish. But first I want to be human.”     Natasha Dudinska   (b. 1967)

So I decided to walk this labyrinth.

It just seemed like something I had to do in that moment. I wasn’t sure why I felt the desire to walk the thing in the first place. I had no idea what to expect, what to do. Are there rules to labyrinth-walking? Should one focus on something specific or clear one’s mind altogether? Start on the outside or in the center? These thoughts came and went so fast, I didn’t allow them to sway me. Instead, I walked straight to the center and, looking down at the path a foot in front of me, I took a step.

My mind immediately began to swirl. With each deliberate and slowly-paced step, my thoughts ran free. I saw the faces of the hospital patients I had just performed for only minutes before. I saw long-dead relatives. I saw the people I love most on this planet. I saw myself. The sheer number of images and thoughts that skipped through my brain was enormous. But somehow, the procession was quite orderly. It was as if my controlled steps were establishing a set pace for my thoughts to follow. For some reason, my ego cooperated.

It had been a rough day. My body felt drained of energy and unwilling to perform the simplest of tasks, like walking across the room. I know that feeling, and it can sometimes lead to more than a dip in energy. I have often felt physical weakness as a precursor to depression. While I certainly didn’t want it, I’ve learned enough not to obsess over it and fight it. If it comes, it comes. Otherwise, walk softly.

And that’s what I did. I walked softly, following the turns of the labyrinth’s path until I found myself stepping completely out of the maze. I had finished the walk and, somehow, my thoughts had wrapped themselves up as well. It was as if it had all been timed out perfectly. My steps equaled my thoughts. My brain and my feet had done the math and proven the theorem.

My baby steps through the labyrinth gave me a certain peace that I hadn’t expected, but definitely appreciated. The day didn’t lead to depression. I was just a little tired was all. I knew that to be true the moment I picked up my guitar to leave. And as I was leaving, I saw a pamphlet titled, “Walking the Labyrinth.” The first lines of the pamphlet read, “Be assured there is no wrong way to walk the path. If you follow the path, you cannot get lost – there is only one way in, and one way out – there are no tricks to it and no dead ends.” Amen.

Best–

Mikki Brisk

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November 2008

Howdy, Friends!

“I must sojourn once to the ballot-box before I die. I hear the ballot-box is a beautiful glass globe, so you can see all the votes as they go in. Now, the first time I vote I’ll see if the woman’s vote looks any different from the rest–if it makes any stir or commotion. If it don’t inside, it need not outside.”

Sojourner Truth   

(c. 1797–1883)

It’s finally here. After almost 2 years of campaigning around the globe, it is finally time for registered voters to elect a new president in the United States.

Don’t worry — I have no intention of sharing my particular political views here. I have no desire to sway you to one side or the other. I’m not interested in garnering votes for my “team” or engaging in a debate (or argument) over the qualifications of either candidate.

At the moment, I’m rather wrapped up in the idea of what it means to be able to vote. Do you know how lucky we are? Do you ever think about the fact that most of us who will be voting Tuesday were born here? Couldn’t that be completely random? Depending on your beliefs, couldn’t your soul have ended up in the body of any baby born anywhere around this planet? But it didn’t go down that way. We were born here.

I know some of you were born in other countries. And while some of you are citizens of the beautiful lands you were born into, others have immigrated to America. And some of you have even earned your citizenship here and your right to vote.

Does my being born here mean I’ve “earned” my right to vote? I don’t think so. But I do believe that my heart, love and appreciation for this life — seemingly given at random — qualify me to respect the electoral process and to show up on the designated day. And I tell you now: come hell or high water I will be there to cast my vote. Because I can.

Sojourner Truth only dreamed of voting. She was a former slave who became an itinerant preacher and was active in the women’s suffrage movement. And while I don’t know as much about her as I would like, I’m sure her efforts were not in vain. Women were finally granted the vote in this country in 1920. Truth had died thirty-seven years before.

For all the people who couldn’t, for all the people who cannot still — please vote. It is a beautiful privilege.

Best–

Mikki Brisk

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December 2008

Howdy, Friends!

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”     Francis P. Church   (1839–1906)

I’m this close to entering the mixing phase of the record. Tracking is almost done and I’m so excited to get the project finished. I just hope I can afford to finish.

The whole world is feeling a bit of a pinch this December. Paying for my record just happens to fall at a time when a whole lot of us are wondering how to pay for the holidays, not to mention our day-to-day lives. It’s tough out there. Hard to keep faith. Hard to believe.

I was six when my uncle decided I should know “the truth” about Santa Claus and he burst my Christmas bubble. As he was all of a couple of years older, he was worldly. Maybe he felt some sort of kid power in tainting my beliefs. I don’t know. I do know that it sucked.

As Christmas drew near, I was heart-broken. I had younger sisters and I didn’t want them to feel the same disappointment so I kept my mouth shut. My parents continued to reference Mr. C. so I didn’t tell them anything either. I suffered in juvenile silence, dreading Christmas morning. How would I behave? What would I do? I was certain it would be a miserable day and that all Christmases (for the rest of my life) would be sad and hollow.

But something else happened. Christmas morning came and I was as excited as ever. Running from bed to see the tree was just as thrilling as the previous year. And the scene was just as beautiful. There were presents for me and my sisters. Santa had come.

We were very poor throughout most of my childhood. Christmas morning didn’t hold a plethora of outrageous and expensive gifts for us. Instead we each received a couple of oranges, socks, underwear, maybe some new pajamas and a toy or two. That was it. And yet it was so very much. The miracle wasn’t WHAT we received. The miracle was THAT we received. The fact that Santa came to visit us was the greatest gift of all. Our being able to count on him was so beautiful and simple. It was the faith of children. And there was great power in that. I hope I never forget it.

This year, you may be planning on scaling back your holiday spending. If there are little ones in your life, you may be torn as to how you can balance fiscal responsibility with heart-felt giving. Have some faith. The kids you know will be just fine. There is a Santa Claus. They know it. And as long as he keeps them on his nice list, they’ll be overjoyed. Faith rewarded is a beautiful thing. Have some faith. In Santa Claus. In each other. In yourself. Eventually, we’re all gonna be okay.

Best–

Mikki Brisk