Half In The Dark

 

Just a quick catch-up… Sorry. Sometimes I find I have John Oliver on the brain. (If that makes no sense, too bad for you.)

 

Aretha Franklin. For a while now, I’ve been drunk on her version of “Somewhere” from West Side Story. Now it seems more poignant. More important. And I adore it.

 

Because I love, love, love Kate Bush, the gods gave me this video of Big Boi, referencing her work. Right to the end, it is everything I love about music and how it can (and should) be universal.

 

I’m stuck on repeat of a playlist of mostly ’80s songs and it’s fortifying my soul. I will never apologize nor regret it. Same for a playlist of slow jams. Both lists go damn well with a glass by my side.

 

I recently finished a first draft of – something. Maybe it’s a book, maybe not. Today, I just don’t know. I’m just giving it some breathing room and trying to love me for getting it out at all.

 

I’ve started writing songs again. (Well – I’ve started writing a song – singular.) That’s a big freaking deal. Honestly – I love me for that, too.

 

Looking over this list, I see a lot of love present. Hmm. The world can jack me up sometimes. So I hide. Okay. But I can’t hide from me.

 

It’s good to be back, even if I’m still half in the dark.

 

Hallelujah.

 

Shadows

So Long, Mr. Dorough

Bob Dorough – the man responsible for some of the music of my childhood – has died.

 

If you grew up watching classic School House Rock cartoons, you know the work of Mr. Dorough. Here’s a list compiled by Jen Chaney at Vulture. It’s a swell stroll down memory lane.

 

Later in life, I came to know the jazz music of Bob Dorough and each time I heard one of those songs, I smiled. Here’s a tune he did with Miles Davis. It comes up on my personal playlist most every year. “Old Devil Moon” bent to Dorough’s will and can’t be unheard, once visited. Take that any way you want, but know that I intend it with a loving smile.

 

I’m so grateful I had the benefit of knowing Bob Dorough’s work. I probably wouldn’t have memorized the preamble without him, and to this day, when I count by 3s, it’s his voice I hear. I say “3 is a magic number” all the danged time. And I have Bob Dorough to thank for that.

 

Here’s hoping Dorough, Blossom Dearie and Miles Davis are making great music together, in infinity.

Lost In a Living Dance

 

Spring has sprung, people. It’s hit near 90 degrees already and since 80 is the new 70, I expect to be getting the vapors any minute now. Such is life in La-La Land.

 

OMD at The Wiltern

 

Anyhoo – I’ve got music on the brain! And here are the 3 creatives holding my attention of late…

 

OMD – This one is easy, because Mister and I just saw them live. I had seen them back in the ’80s, but this was Mister’s first OMD concert. They did not disappoint, y’all, and I think they were just as good as when I saw them – gulp – over 30 years ago. So giving to their audience, so appreciative of being able to do what they clearly love, such camaraderie on that stage. It was a real treat to see them.

 

Janelle Monae’s “Make Me Feel – This one is easy, too, because Janelle Monae is so friggin’ awesome, I can hardly stand it. I’ve been listening to this song on a loop and I’m still not over it. Now before anyone says something about her trying to emulate Prince, know that this is a song honoring His Purple Highness, and Prince was a mentor of sorts to Ms. Monae. Rumors abound that Prince was even involved with this track before his death. Whatever the truth may be on that one, I do believe Prince would have been proud of this song and of Janelle Monae. I love the song. I love her. Mean it.

 

Appalachian Spring” by Aaron Copland – Copland, as creator of this beautiful music, may very well be my favorite composer. (Like colors, my mind changes on this fave from whim to whim and today Mr. Copland is tops.) This suite of music has moved me from curiosity to joy to blubbering, on more than one occasion. When I listen to it, I usually find myself seeking solitude at some point, so that I can cry in isolation. It is that perfect. Since the calendar rolled over to this new season, I haven’t yet allowed myself the privilege of hearing it anew. That time has come.

 

It will probably take a while for me to get Janelle Monae out of my system. And then I’ll surely return to it from time to time, just as I do the works of OMD and Copland’s masterpiece. That’s one of the great pleasures of music – renewal. It comes around in our lives and even though we’ve known each note for years, it feels and sounds fresh. Alive. New. Pretty much like spring itself. I am lost in a living dance…

 

Spring in Los Angeles

Strangers

 

Love

 

During the month of February, 12 years ago, I sold my first CD to a stranger. I know this because it was such a pleasant surprise, at the time, that I scribbled a note about it in my then-current calendar. When it came time to transfer significant dates to the next year’s calendar (things like International Talk Like a Pirate Day and Tom Baker‘s birthday), I took that little note along. And I’ve done so each year since.

 

I just got an accounting of digital music sales and it was lovely. Not for the money (of which there was barely enough for a beer), but for the information contained in the report. Canada, Japan, the UK – all were shown as places of downloads of my little songs. It really made me smile and reminded me of that day, 12 years ago, when someone I never met paid for my musical art. My heart really needed that boost this week. And I’m so grateful the world gifted me with that sweet energy.

 

Though the world doesn’t know it, I still carry dreams and ambitions for music. I have plans (that shall remain private for now), I have hopes. I have many new songs. I have the soul of a creator. Denying it doesn’t change the fact. It only gets me down. So I don’t deny it. I own it. I practice voice training and work on songs. I paint things I want to look at. I weld art for my own home. I cook good food to savor and share. I create, when and where I can. If I don’t, my soul shrinks. That’s no good for me, and when I’m not good to myself, I’m of little use in the world. And just as I cannot deny my need for the best me I can be, I also cannot deny the fact that the world needs me to show up every day. To be a good human. A good citizen. A good artist. You know what I’m talking about, I imagine, because you know that the world needs you, too. Desperately.

 

So – this month. I endeavor to move toward creativity, with kindness and purpose. I endeavor to love deeply. I endeavor to be the best me I can. And I do it with gratitude for the global souls – strangers – who have reminded me how it feels to be appreciated. My heart overflows…

And In The End…

 

Earlier this month I wrote about saying goodbye to my old Volvo. I told of how the car’s radio, broken for years, had magically sparked to life as I took the old gal out for her last ride.  The song that was playing when the music came through the speakers? “When I Need You” by Leo Sayer. The radio station? 100.3 The Sound.

 

100.3 The Sound

 

Yesterday the FCC made it possible for only a few piggies to have all the pie in the broadcast radio and TV markets of America. I’m simplifying, to be sure, but that’s the way a lot of folks see it, and I’m one of them there folks.

 

Yesterday was also the last day an L.A. radio station served our market. 100.3 The Sound has been around for 10 years and it’s been grand. The station played classic rock, but not like some of the nationally programmed crap we’re fed. The Sound used real-live DJs, and they were responsible for providing listeners with music not found anywhere else on the dial. The DJs had distinct personalities and tastes. That used to be common. I grew up with terrestrial radio like that. But today? Nope. Up and down the dial, it’s nowhere to be found, or it’s so rare as to require a wire hanger and acrobatic maneuvers in order to tune it in.

 

The Sound knew the end was nigh, as it had been sold to one of those aforementioned station-grabbing piggies. The DJs had been preparing us – the listeners – and themselves for the inevitable last song. Along the way, I paid attention to the DJs, to the station’s ads and to the music. One of the spots referenced the fact that a lot of the songs played there may never again be heard on radio. Think about that. Will I happen to hear “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads elsewhere? Sure. But will I hear “Fool to Cry” by The Rolling Stones? Probably not. And I damn sure won’t hear “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” by Traffic. Not gonna happen. Not in the Los Angeles market anyway. Not anymore.

 

So as 100.3 The Sound wrapped up their run yesterday, Andy Chanley (the first DJ at the station, a decade ago) said something about “…the last 11 words of this album side…” I immediately started crying. I knew what was coming: side 2 of “Abbey Road” in its entirety. For a few years in my youth, I fell asleep listening to that each and every night. On vinyl, just like they played it on The Sound. Yesterday, as I listened to the masterpiece in the middle of the day, I took care of some bid-ness and earned my keep. All the DJs and staff had gathered for the final farewell. They expressed their gratitude for each other, for the listeners, for the station, for the music. At the close of “Abbey Road,” the format immediately changed to christian pop, whatever the fuck that ungodly mess is. The now former DJs and staff are all likely searching for new jobs.

 

Speaking for the listeners, I can tell you that we are merely searching.

Happy Bricks

 

 

I had heard it before. But I had never really listened.

 

It was March 1980. Kim Cox was having a birthday party at the Holiday Inn in Griffin, GA. Her step-daddy, Lee, was the manager of the hotel (or was it a motel?) and so Kim got to have her party in one of the conference rooms. It wasn’t a large space and it wasn’t a large gathering. But for poor kids like me, it was a big deal. The Griffin Holiday Inn was the nicest hotel/motel for miles, and I had been invited to a popular girl’s party! There were several varieties of co-colas and several snacks. And there was music. Rock music of the day. Good music, too. In particular, I remember hearing Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out With Him” and loving it. Kids that we were, there wasn’t much dancing going on. The girls mostly hugged one wall while the boys mostly hugged another. It was innocent. And it was fun.

 

And then it wasn’t fun. Apparently, in a nearby conference room, there was a meeting of men from a local Baptist church. A Southern Baptist church, to boot. (A church that I and most others at the party did not belong to, by the way.) Southern Baptists don’t take kindly to dancing. And the more pompous among them don’t care much for secular music. I guess some asshole from that meeting heard our music from behind a closed door, so he walked right in and went over to the hi-fi and Turned. It. Off. He then threw a brief hissy fit and lectured us kids on how we were sinners and should be ashamed of ourselves for being there in the middle of such corruption. He looked pretty full of himself and was about to head out when Kim’s mama burst into the room.

 

To say Judy was a petite woman is ambitious generosity on my part. She was always impeccably dressed and her hair and make-up were just so. She was lovely, strong and I liked her a lot. Whenever I saw her with her kids, she seemed like a real good mother. She was also a firecracker and woe be unto him who thought he could stand up to that little gal. When Judy came in to find some yahoo trying to shut down her daughter’s birthday party, I actually felt sorry for the guy. She marched over to the stereo, seething, “Turn that music back on!” She then smiled at all us kids, told us to get back to the party and have a good time, and dragged that Southern Baptist S-O-B into the hall. Even over the strains of the music, we could hear Judy yelling from the other side of the door. She told that church guy, in no uncertain terms, that he had crossed a line and that he had better cut out before she really gave him what for. That her daughter’s party was none of his business. I don’t think she swore, as Judy wasn’t like that. And I don’t remember that jerk saying a single word in response. I’m guessing he knew he was in trouble and had best get the hell out of there before Judy switched from verbal to physical attack mode. That guy had upset her daughter and Judy was pissed. After giving a much-deserved lashing in the hall, Judy came back in to make sure the party had again picked up. She was all smiles and if you hadn’t heard her tearing the stuffing out of that church jerk, you’d never have known she’d been riled at all. She was in control and she was grand.

 

But I digress. This post isn’t about the memory of that long-ago party. It’s about the song that was playing when the disruption took place: Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in The Wall (Part 2)”. When I hear that song now, I am immediately transported to the Griffin, GA Holiday Inn’s conference room – the place where the song’s lyrics first penetrated my brain and took hold. After that night, I couldn’t escape the song. Didn’t want to. I wanted more. I needed to know what was going on in those lyrics and what they meant. At some point, I saved enough lunch money to get the whole record. On cassette. I started studying the compositions, each song, and trying to decipher depth and meaning. I didn’t get far, truth be told, but I also didn’t let go. There was something there, just out of reach.

 

A couple of years later, I was given some clarity when “Pink Floyd – The Wall” was released in theaters. The movie was a freak show and it was fabulous. By the time of its release, I was a pretty messed-up kid. Sucky home life and depression were bearing down. Decent adults weren’t able to help, and there were very few of them in my life anyway. The ones that did reach out (Mrs. Woods at Pike County High School, thank you), well, their good intentions were lost on me. I had been failed by my parents and didn’t trust adults. More than once, so-called grown-ups had proven themselves dangerous and harmful. So when a good person tried to give me a hand, I lumped them in with the others and backed away. I didn’t have the tools to discern decency. And I didn’t have faith in those older than me and my peers.

 

But I did trust music and art. So when the opportunity to go to Atlanta and see “Pink Floyd – The Wall” at the old Fox Theatre presented itself, I took advantage. My small group of friends – all of us searching for something – went to the big city and settled in. The movie was amazing. (Still is.) The music became even more real for me and the accompanying visuals brought new meaning to the lyrics I’d been holding on to since that Holiday Inn party. As much as I wanted to “tear down the wall,” I decided instead that, at that time, I’d be better served by building a wall. And so I began.

 

The bricks I used were ugly. There were lies and deception, greed and manipulation. And those materials were supplied only by my parents. Time brought more darkness and more bricks. By the time I was a young woman, I had mastered a false smile and a fake aura of happiness. Having been depressed since, well, all my life, I had gotten really good at hiding it. Whenever I felt let-down by anyone – even by myself – I added that brick to my wall. I really didn’t know how else to live.

 

But there was more to me than that. Deep inside, I held out hope. Hope that “happy” was real. Hope that joyful people weren’t faking it, that some people in the world really did love their lives and, at least on occasion, felt good. I never talked about it. I never told anyone how distraught I was, or how long I’d been in that lowly state. I didn’t know how to talk about it. But it was getting worse. I was getting worse. I was somewhere in my late twenties and each day weighed a bit more than the last. Something had to give.

 

It was my brain. I had a bit of a nervous breakdown. I can still see the room and the light coming in the window. I remember the phone ringing. And for some reason I answered. I had to crawl to the phone, because I didn’t have the strength to get there otherwise. Thank god I did, as that phone call from a distant friend served as a helping hand. And for the first time in almost thirty years, I trusted the grown-up on the other side of that conversation. I began to tear down the wall.

 

I sought therapy. I worked hard. Some parts of me that weren’t quite right had to be broken down before they could be rebuilt. Others had to be constructed from scratch. So many basic behaviors were unknown to me. I had never been taught how to deal with confrontation or disagreement. (I had been taught, by my parents, that I wasn’t allowed to confront them or to even be angry with them. Swear to god.) There was a lot to learn. A lot to do. And every time I gained the slightest understanding, another brick was removed. Over time, I tore down my wall. I not only gained a greater view and relationship with the world, I also gained a relationship with myself. And I was pretty damned pleased to meet me. Flawed, happy me.

 

So that’s how I moved through life for the last couple of decades. There have been amazing ups and terrifying downs. Through it all, my goal has been to remain honest with myself first, so that I could be honest with those in my little world. And it’s worked. Or at least it did. Right up until this past November, when I fell into a not-unfamiliar dark hole.

 

Before my country was suckered into supporting hate, I hadn’t been depressed for decades. (There’s a difference, for me, between being down and being full-on depressed.) I thought I was just down. I thought I was stronger than my blues. I thought I could ride it out. But sometimes we don’t see ourselves clearly. Maybe we don’t want to. Maybe we’re wearing blinders and don’t know it. Whatever the reason, I didn’t see that I had become clinically depressed. Again. I didn’t see that I was in real trouble and needed outside help.

 

This time, the hand of kindness came in the form of a lovely woman, Robin. Even though we’ve only known each other a short while, she listened to me when I opened up and told her what I was going through. She looked in my eyes, and actually heard me. I told her I had worked so hard to tear down my wall and now I was too exposed, too vulnerable. That’s when Robin gazed into my soul and said that maybe I should rebuild my wall, only this time perhaps I should use Happy Bricks.

 

I don’t know how those words affect you. And to be perfectly honest, I don’t care. I only know that when Robin suggested I use Happy Bricks to build a self-preserving, self-caring wall, I was thunderstruck. Yes! Of course! Happy Bricks! Why hadn’t I thought of that?

 

Walls aren’t the enemy. Some are certainly downright hurtful and harmful, but that’s no reason to cast all walls in a sour light. Walls hold up my roof. Walls provide privacy and sanctuary in my backyard. Walls hold art and windows, views to life and the world. Walls keep me safe. Good walls always have.

 

And so I find myself mixing mortar, gathering Happy Bricks to build a new wall. 35 people participated in the Womens March in Zebulon, GA (my hometown) – that’s a Happy Brick. A complete stranger saw me crocheting squares for blankets to be donated to local chemo patients and she asked how she could knit to help – that’s a Happy Brick. The Netherlands stepped up to provide healthcare for women around the globe after our government chose to withdraw women’s healthcare support as punishment  for having dared to march en masse – that’s a Happy Brick. It’s true – I’ve lost a lot these past few months. People I once respected are choosing willful ignorance. Relationships have ended or have been damaged. The injury to my country, though only just begun, deepens each day. It’s sad, heartbreaking, and for some, it will no doubt prove deadly. But I can’t give all my energy to those truths. Some of my strength has to go toward pulling myself up from the muck, toward taking those beautiful hands that reach down to lift me skyward. Toward adding another Happy Brick to my wall.

 

Working through this new depression won’t be easy. Working for decency and good won’t be easy, either. But that work will still be right, and must be done. I’m up for it. I’ve pulled myself toward happiness once before. I’ve witnesseed Kim Cox’s mama, Judy, standing up to a bully nearly twice her size and I’ve never forgotten seeing that. I’m no Judy. But I’m a mighty fine version of Mikki. And self-righteous yahoos would be wise to steer clear. I’ve got mortar, a sharp trowel and a load of Happy Bricks on my back. And I damn sure know how to use them.

Thursday Memories – Kutsher’s Resort, The Catskills

 

 

Ten years ago this month, I found myself hauling my guitar to The Catskills in Monticello, New York. I, along with a few hundred others, was playing a folk festival at Kutscher’s Resort. The festival was really about marketing. Almost everyone there was either a performer or a booker of gigs. It was only three days, but the schedule was jam-packed. I really had no time to explore the place, which was too bad.

 

A lot of folks believe Kutsher’s was the inspiration for the setting of “Dirty Dancing.” Whether or not that’s true, I don’t know. But the place was amazing, and it did have quite a history.

 

I speak of Kutsher’s in the past tense because it’s gone. It was torn down last year and all that remain are memories. There’s a fantastic group of photos in this Gothamist piece, and a lot of what you see there isn’t much different from what I saw ten years ago. The dilapidated parts are worse than anything I witnessed, to be sure. But the place was old. Real old. Regardless of its heyday heights, it definitely declined.

 

Take a look at the photos in that Gothamist piece. They’re kind of amazing. Not just for the decay, but for what once was. Kutsher’s seemed, to me, like a dream. It was so many things I imagined, but never actually knew. Family vacations. Summers in The Catskills. Ten years ago, simply being there was crazy. And cool. And now it’s just a memory.

Dead or Alive’s Pete Burns – RIP

 

 

A couple of days ago, on Sunday, Pete Burns – lead singer of “Dead or Alive” – passed away of a massive heart attack. He was 57.

 

For anyone who wasn’t an 80s music freak, Burns’ name or band name may not be ringing any bells. Still, I’m guessing most folks have heard “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” as it was their biggest hit. For me, “Cake and Eat It” was the best. I still love that one. A close second was “Brand New Lover.”

 

I know Pete Burns ended up being known for other things (plastic surgery, “Celebrity Big Brother”), but for me, I’ll always picture him as he was in the 80s: beautiful. And I’ll always love hearing him sing “Cake and Eat It.” Always.

Monkey

 

 

A few nights ago, I attended an event at my women’s club. I was looking forward to it and was ready. But as I drove to the venue, I felt anxious. So I did what I had to do to get to the root of my feelings, and had a conversation with myself. I asked me, “Why the anxiety, kid?” And I immediately answered, “I’ve had a monkey on my back all day, and I’m not sure I can keep it quiet.” Yes – I had a monkey on my back, and its name was Feel Right.

 

If you’ve never heard this song, please know there’s a lot of swearing. (So if you click on the above mother-fucking link, you’re in for it.) The video itself is beyond entertaining. But I wasn’t thinking of the video on that day. I simply had the song’s chorus stuck on auto-play and I wasn’t editing myself, y’all. And it was good. But, you know, ladies. I was concerned that after singing some variation of “Feel Right” for about 4 friggin’ hours, I might not be able to turn it off. Hence my anxiety.

 

As it turned out, I was polite and swore only one time, and that was in reference to politics. (I was forgiven for that.) My public reputation is, for the moment, preserved.

 

I don’t know why Mystikal’s voice got stuck in my head that day. I also don’t know why it flew away by the next morning. I do know it was soon replaced by Angela Lansbury’s voice, singing “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” and as of this writing, she’s still in there, dammit.

 

So I guess I’ll see what pops into the old noggin today. I certainly hope it’s something entertaining. If I’m gonna have a monkey on my back, it might as well be a cool-ass monkey. Dig?

I Feel Good

 

 

Yesterday I woke with a smile. There in the dark, completely content to face a Monday, I felt good. And I said as much, right out loud. Only I didn’t say it. I sang it.

 

There’s this musician dude, Freebo, and he’s got a song called “Sometimes It’s For Nothin’.” A lot of folks refer to the song as “I Feel Good” because those words are repeatedly repeated in the chorus. Anyone who’s ever seen Freebo live will tell you how infectious this song can be. The whole audience gets to wailing along with him, and I swear. By the time that song is over, you do feel good.

 

Freebo is a sweet guy and though our paths have not crossed for quite a while, I do think of him fondly from time to time. And almost always, those thoughts are triggered by the lyrics “I feel good.” Yesterday morning was lovely. And I did feel good.

 

I also sent peaceful thoughts to Freebo. I send good thoughts to various people all the time. Sometimes those notions are in the form of prayer. Sometimes not. When I imagine folks receiving my good intentions, I picture them smiling. I don’t insert myself into the scene, though, as there’s no need for friends and loved ones to credit me in any way, shape or form. I don’t need to be part of their joy or happiness. That’s theirs. My only hope in focusing on the well-being of another is that they actually connect with themselves and revel in that moment. Just seeing that in my mind causes me to smile. And maybe that’s the point of well-wishing. Maybe sending kind thoughts to another actually increases kindness within the sender. And if my kindness for myself flares, mightn’t I be more likely to spread that around as I go about my day? And isn’t it possible that I might make someone else’s day, if only in passing? It’s lovely to imagine life that way.

 

So yes. I felt good yesterday. And while Freebo wasn’t the cause of my feelings, his music certainly did reflect my morning joy. I’d say that was plenty good reason to send Freebo excellent vibes. Hope he felt them.