A Sad Day for Rock and Roll

81eVnOh4UJL._SL1300_I think I was 14 years old. I had finally decided to expand my musical horizons beyond my beloved Beatles. I asked my dad to go downstairs and pull some albums for me to listen to from his extensive collection of vinyl. He was thrilled. Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, Fear of Music by the Talking Heads, Armed Forces by Elvis Costello, The Idiot by Iggy Pop, Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. But the one that he pulled and immediately placed on the record player because I simply HAD to hear it right then, was an album called The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

Now, I had heard of David Bowie, of course. I’m sure I’d heard “Changes” on the local rock station about a million times by then. But this… this was something else.

My dad went straight for side two, moved the needle to the middle of the disk. “You can’t listen to this song quietly,” he said. He cranked that stereo. It was LOUD. “Hang on to Yourself” started blaring from the speakers. It immediately hit me. The energy of the song, the strength of Bowie’s performance, that melodic guitar solo.

My dad sang along in his best Bowie voice (he’s a pretty good mimic as far as singing along with the radio goes.) “Come on, come on. We’ve really got a good thing go-i-i-ing…” I distinctly remember him dancing and doing the weird breath thing at the end of the song. “Come on. HEH. Come on. HEH.”

I watched, amused, but I mostly listened. By the end of the song, I was hooked. I wanted to hear the rest. But it was late, and “you have to listen to the whole thing from the beginning now,” Dad said. I must have done so the next day. I loved that album so much. I made a cassette tape from the vinyl so that I could listen to it on the boom box in my bedroom. And I bought it on CD not long after that. Even my little sister, at the time a big fan of N*SYNC and Toby Keith, go so hooked on the album that she listened to it on her Walkman on repeat all the way home to New Jersey from Vermont one time.

Only one song on the album was not written by David Bowie. All the rest, he wrote by himself. The Ziggy Stardust character was his own unique creation, and only one of the iconic personas he embodied in his long and celebrated career. For me, he is almost beyond the scope of influence. His songs are too inventive, his image(s) too ballsy, his catalog too all-encompassing. Some artists are easy to pillage from – their fashion, writing a whole new song influenced by one little lyric of theirs, the way their guitar sounded that one time. Bowie is different for me. I’ll never walk out onstage with a giant lightning bolt painted on my face. I’ve never written a song and said, “yeah, this has a kind of Bowie thing to it.” Maybe someday.

Some have dismissed him as a “chameleon,” changing who he was as an artist to try to keep up with the times and trends and thus never really being true to himself. I don’t think that’s true, or fair. I think Bowie was a multifaceted person, constantly evolving and endlessly creative, and pretty much always doing what he thought was artistically authentic and interesting. He was one of a kind, even in his many incarnations.

Rest in peace, Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, Thin White Duke… David.

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It was fifty years ago today…

Las Vegas!

Las Vegas!

Fifty years ago today, a rock and roll band from Liverpool, England called the Beatles arrived in New York City. Their arrival ushered in a new wave of hope for a country that so recently before that was shattered by the assassination of their charismatic young president, John F. Kennedy.

I wasn’t around when the Beatles arrived in America. In fact, I wasn’t born until almost twenty years after the band had broken up. But they have had a profound effect on my life, both musically and personally.

So today, I figured I’d write a little bit about what the Beatles have meant to me: quotes I’ve connected with, lyrics I love, memories I possess. These are (a small few of) the ways a 1960’s band from England influenced a 1990’s girl from New Jersey.

  • “This is my story both humble and true / Take it to pieces and mend it with glue” – John Lennon.  I’ve always loved this line from John’s poetry. It makes me feel inspired the second I read it.
  • I remember sitting on my dad’s lap in the rocking chair in my bedroom singing “I Saw Her Standing There” as a toddler. The start of my life as a singer!
  • “You see? You just write what you feel even if you don’t know where it’ll take you” – John Lennon. One of the best lessons for a writer of any medium to learn!
  • My sister and two friends of ours used to play “Beatles” when we were in grade school. I was John (he’s always been my favorite), our friends were Paul and George, and Meg was Ringo. And we’d sit in my room and sing and play air guitar and air drums to cassettes on my boom box and pretend we were the Beatles. Haha!
  • “But if I see a great artist, I love ‘em. I just love ‘em. I go fanatical about them for a short period, and then I get over it. And if they wear green socks, I’m liable to wear green socks for a period, too” – John Lennon. One of my recent musical obsessions is Kacey Musgraves, and I bought a dress the other day that looks very much like something she’d wear. Green socks!
  • “And in her eyes you see nothing / No sign of love behind the tears / Cried for no one / A love that should have lasted years” – “For No One,” my favorite Paul McCartney song. It’s so simple, yet you can see the whole thing as it happens, like a play in your mind.
  • I took a Beatles class in college. And even though I knew soooo much about them before, I learned an incredible amount about the songs themselves and the way they were put together musically. One of the best classes, and teachers, I had in college. Thanks, Mr. Byrd!
  • “I get by with a little help from my friends, with a little help from my FRIEEEEEEEEENDS!” – “With a Little Help From My Friends.” My Beatle class professor said that if felt as if Ringo’s entire career had led up to giving everything he had to this line, and it really does! Of all the songs Ringo sings on the Beatles records, I can’t picture any of the other members singing this one. This is his song, for sure.
  • When the Beatles Cirque Du Soleil show, Love, came out when I was in high school, I never imagined I’d get to see it. Little did I know, years later the show would still be going on and I would get tickets from my boyfriend for Christmas! The show was incredible. I’d see it again in a heartbeat. AND the sound was awesome. It really felt like the closest I’ll be able to come to experiencing the Beatles live.
  • “I read the news today, oh boy” – “A Day in the Life.” Sometimes, I can’t even listen to this song. I have to be in the right mood for the weight of the story and the intensity of the music. But it’s my favorite Beatles song. And that’s saying a lot!

I can’t wait to watch all the TV specials that will be running this week on the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles coming to America, but I couldn’t resist adding some memories of my own to the mix!

Another of my favorite Beatle memories involves recording my own version of one of my favorites of theirs, “Dear Prudence.” It was both exhilarating and intimidating, but I’m very proud of the final product. (Also, my dad, who introduced me to the Beatles in the first place, makes an appearance in the bridge! So awesome!) Listen below!

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I Want to be Honey Nut Cheerios

French Cheerios I found while singing in St. Barth :)

French Cheerios I found while singing in St. Barth :)

Last night I read an article. “How country music went crazy. A comprehensive timeline of the genre’s identity crisis.” He said, she said, these are the artists ruining country music, these are the artists that will save country music, these artists don’t respect their elders, these artists are washed up fuddy-duddies, country music consumers are stupid and will buy all sorts of meaningless crap, country music consumers feel like their intelligence is being insulted and are dying for some meaningful music.

This is a conversation happening not just in the country music community, but in all genres of popular music today by the artists that make it and by the fans that listen to it all.

I’ve always been a huge fan of music. I’ve been on “Team Meaningful” since I can remember. I believe I may have mentioned in a previous blog the soap box I got on while riding the school bus in the third grade regarding my classmates love of N*Sync and the Backstreet Boys and my revulsion of both. “The Beatles are better than all of them!” Not a great way to make friends.

But I can appreciate the need for levity in music. And Beatle-super-fan over here knows that even Lennon and McCartney didn’t always produce the most profound songs in the world. Music does not always need to be thought provoking, or incredibly clever, or revolutionary, or even exceptionally well written to have a function in the musical landscape. Music can be just for fun. And it should be, sometimes.

Shopping for cereal with my boyfriend a few weeks ago I had an epiphany. I became extraordinarily excited and finally realized what I want my music to be. I want to be Honey Nut Cheerios.

Stick with me…

You’ve got your Cap’n Crunch, your Fruity Pebbles, your Fruit Loops. You’ve got your Kashi, your Fiber-One, your various types of bran. And then, you have your Honey Nut Cheerios. Somewhere in the middle, Honey Nut Cheerios are both delicious and good for you. They are just the right amount of sweet. They are adored by people of all ages. They have been around since 1979 and have only managed to become more popular with age (I looked it up, you guys. Citation: Business Week). They are a part of American culture. They sell like crazy (hey, a girl can dream, right?).

Allow me to clarify my little allegorical paragraph. I want to make music with just enough sweetness. Music that’s interesting and different and daring enough that “music people” think it’s cool but accessible and catchy and relevant enough that casual pop fans go for it too. Music that I can play for my grandparents and parents (even if I do cringe a bit at certain lines I’d prefer them not ponder too intently), that my generation will love, and that’s acceptable for the ears of small children (again with the over-pondering thing). I want to be around in forty years, still touring and making records. I want to be a respected part of our musical culture. And of course I’d take the whole selling-millions-of-units part. If I had to.

I realize these are some steep goals. It’s not everyday a musician is able to knit herself into the fabric of music history. But one needs goals in order to accomplish anything in life. Why not set them to the lofty standards of one of the world’s best breakfast cereals?

It may sound crazy, but it’s the moments in life in the cereal aisle, these things that hit me out of nowhere, that really inspire me. I spend an incredible amount of energy fussing over my career and the direction it’s heading in. Even when I’m not actively thinking about it, I’m thinking about it. Which is why these crazy thoughts hit me while grocery shopping. Or why I wake up to write a song in the dead of the night, or why I can’t fall asleep in the first place.

In a musical era where shock value and level are stardom often seem highly proportional and you can’t throw a rock down an old red dirt road without hitting a song about a truck, I think we could use some more Honey Nut Cheerios.

But music isn’t as bleak as people like to make it out to be. There are many talented and successful Honey Nut Cheerios out there. Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert, and Mumford and Sons come to mind as far as acts with mainstream success are concerned.  There are more on the horizon.

I’d like to think I’m somewhere just over that horizon. You’ll be hearing from me soon, and I’d be thrilled to be your Honey Nut Cheerios if you’d let me.

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Behind the Scenes: The Making of a Potentially Successful YouTube Series

Last year, I met a boy. Through him, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with some awesome and talented friends of his who have done way more for me than I deserve. Chris Vanderyajt is one of those friends. Chris is a crazy talented photographer who does a lot of work for Red Bull, Original Skateboards, Fox Racing, and about a million other extreme clients. Beyond that, he’s taken some great photos of musicians, including another Jersey band, The Gaslight Anthem. So it was pretty amazing of him to offer to come into the studio with us while we began the filming of my YouTube series with Jay Cagney.

Check out the series here: I love how candid these photos are! (Especially since I hate hate hate posing for photos. Can shoots be this fun all the time?)

Be sure to check out Chris’ blog for more incredible pics:

http://www.nobreakschris.blogspot.com

P.S. The photo banner at the top of my blog is also by Chris from this shoot! Albeit, cropped unprofessionally and haphazardly by myself.

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P.P.S. Ran across this one perusing the NOBREAKSCHRIS blog. Here’s one Chris took a few years ago of my boy! Ain’t he cute?!

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Words to live by (from the minds of hip, famous people).

"Imagine the possibilities..."

“This is my story both humble and true, take it to pieces and mend it with glue.”

– John Lennon

As a nocturnal, reflective, creatively driven, wannabe-musical-revolutionary, I’ve never been overcome by the sense that I fully fit in anywhere I’ve been or within any group to which I’ve “belonged.” So throughout my life, and in the past few years especially, I’ve found myself seeking out versions of myself – mostly attributes I hope I possess and some I begrudgingly accept that I do – in the words of the people I most admire.  Which I suppose explains why I read so many damned biographies.

When I write my songs, they usually begin (rather illegibly) on a page in one of my basic, spiral bound notebooks.  Spiral, because they stay open to the page you want without you having to physically hold down the pages or devise some sort of contraption out of the crap available on your desk to do the job for you – look Ma, no hands!  Yo ho, yo ho, a spiral life for me.  I do, however, own a number of beautiful, hardcover notebooks.  Most of these were given to me by friends and family, others were just so darned pretty I couldn’t not buy them.  So I find myself searching for uses for these beautiful books that will never hold any of my own writings.

Anyone who owns an Apple computer is likely familiar with the application Sticky Notes.  Basically, virtual Post-its.  In the past year and a half, I have filled up my Sticky Notes with heaps of quotes I find meaningful/funny/whatever. And last week, while rereading a fave entitled Corn Flakes with John Lennon, I suddenly found myself short on visually available sticky-space. Eureka! One of my notebooks would be a place for all these quotes to permanently reside.  A place where I could go when I needed to feel like I belonged.  Not that I feel like I belong in the company of Bob Dylan, let’s be real, but a girl can dream.

From my happily employed notebook to you, here are a few of my most favoritest quotes:

“You see? You just write what you feel even if you don’t know where it will take you.” – John Lennon

“Being an intellectual creates a lot of questions and no answers. You can fill your life up with ideas and still go home lonely.  All you really have that matters are feelings.  That’s what music is to me.” – Janis Joplin

“Style is a product of your limitations.” – Emmylou Harris

“Creativity is delicate – more the result of someone’s emotional makeup than sheer craftsmanship.” – Robert Hilburn, in his aforementioned Corn Flakes with John Lennon

“Energy comes out of the outlets into our amplifiers, and then the energy comes out of us and it goes into the audience and they bounce it back at us and we just play catch, with some vibe.” – Kurt Cobain

“But if I see a great artist, I love ‘em.  I just love ‘em, I go fanatical about them for a short period, and then I get over it.  And if they wear green socks, I’m liable to wear green socks for a period, too.” – John Lennon

“For most artists, the world of imagination is more real than the world of the kitchen sink.” – From A Circle of Quiet, by Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time

“That’s what artists do. Experience life through listening and interacting with people and other artists and then reinterpreting it in their own peculiar way.  That’s why they don’t have day jobs! Too much intellectual pillaging and looting!” – Angie Bowie, first wife of David

“When I got into rock ‘n’ roll, I didn’t even think I had any other option or alternative.  It showed me where my future was, just like some people know they are going to be doctors or lawyers or shortstop for the New York Yankees.” – Bob Dylan

“To me, I always wrote about myself.  Very few of the completely Lennon songs weren’t in the first person.  I’m a first-person journalist.  I find it hard, though I occasionally do it, to write about, you know, ‘Freddie went up the mountain and Freddie came back.’ And even that is really about you.” – John Lennon

And to effectively sum them all up, Bono:

“The artist’s journey is away from self-consciousness.  That’s where you’ve got to have tenacity.  Bruce certainly has that.  Lennon had it.  I had that.  We are, in the end, if not pugilists, certainly scrappers, street fighters, and people who will not be bullied, including by our own ambitions.  It’s like we’re locked into something and we will not let go if it.  If your drug of choice is that song that’s never been heard before but feels like it’s always existed, then you’ll do anything to protect it.”

I will continue sharing quotes as my notebook continues to fill.

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A Duck, For When You’re Down on Your Luck

Photo op: The duck figurine, which upon closer inspection appears to be a chick. In front of Mad River Glen's iconic bumper sticker.

Six years ago today, I badly broke my leg in a skiing accident at Mad River Glen in Vermont. Happy anniversary to me.  “A Duck, For When You’re Down on Your Luck” was originally written for a college class in Spring 2010.  This is an edited, abbreviated version. Enjoy!  

Mad River Glen. Sunday, February 12, 2006 – I jumped off a cliff.  On skis.  Yes, on purpose. What happened next was not planned.  An anomaly on the surface of the snow caught the inside edge of my right ski, ripping it back over my right shoulder as the rest of my body went left.  I felt a crack and some intense grinding in my leg, which continued as I hurtled down the remaining few feet of the mountain.  When I finally came to a stop, I knew something was horribly wrong.  Then I looked down.

The normal human leg bends at the knee and then continues on in a graceful straight line to the next joint, the ankle.  When I looked at my right leg, it was as if someone had added another joint between my knee and my ankle.  Right at the top of my boot, my leg jutted sideways, creating a 90-degree angle between the portion of my leg right below my knee and the part still trapped in my ski boot.

That’s when the pain registered.  I threw my body to the left, felt my leg flop back over, began pounding the snow with my fist, and let out a scream for the record books.  My dad was the first one to reach me. Always calm and collected in moments of chaos, he asked me happened.  “I broke my leg,” I told him definitively.

Shock began setting in, slightly diminishing the pain and making my head fuzzy.  I remember a flurry of people around me, including my mom.  She doesn’t ski but had been in the lodge and watched a girl fall – not knowing at the time that the girl she saw was her daughter.  Ski patrollers arrived with a sled.

“Where does it hurt?” one woman asked.

“I broke my leg.” I would’ve put a million dollars on it.

“Did you hear it break?”

“No.” My head had been dragging down the slope in a helmet.

“It’s probably not broken then.  Probably just a strain.”

I remember thinking she was sadly, definitely mistaken.  And that I probably wouldn’t be able to shower for an unfortunately long time.

Fast forward to Friday – the day of my surgery (my leg wasn’t going to heal properly in a cast).  While the nurses were prepping me, they kept asking me what my pain level was.  My answer was always seven or eight.  They rolled me into the operating room.  Billy Joel was playing on the radio.  Or maybe it was Elton John.  They gave me laughing gas to get the IV in and whatever the song was started whirring in my head and my vision went silver.  I threw up on the table and then went out before I had even been given the anesthesia.

When I woke up back in my room a few hours later, I was screaming “TEN!”  I don’t even remember telling myself to yell.  It was involuntary.  Almost as if I had already been screaming and the racket had woken me up. The nurses came in in a flurry and injected me with some sort of drug that put me right out.  I was in the pediatric ward and the last thing I remember seeing before my eyes closed was a duck painted on the wall.

I received a lot of visitors that week.  I fell asleep at some point during most of the visits, but I really did enjoy having people around to talk to.  They all brought me something.  I was given flowers and perfumes, Bath and Body Works supplies, stuffed animals, and candy.  Memom and Dedad, my dad’s parents, brought up a big aluminum pan of spaghetti, which smelled like puke to me.  Everything smelled and tasted like puke to me for the first few weeks.  For some reason, all I could eat was Cheerios and pineapple.  My mom’s friend brought me a beta fish, which I thought was a really weird get well present.  I named him Barre (pronounced Barry) after the town Barre, Vermont where the first hospital was.

At some point during the week, Nana and Pop-Pop came over.  Nana is a small and very classy lady, always dressing in nice warm sweaters and always freezing cold regardless.  She has a Bronx accent, which makes some of her words that end in “a” sound like they end in “r”.  My cousin Amanda’s name always comes out “Amander” when Nana says it.  Pop-Pop walked slowly and talked with a Jersey City accent.  He was a little hard of hearing.  You could say something like, “Try some of these,” and he would say, “What? Mayonnaise?” But he was sharp as a tack and still very image conscious in his old age.  His hair was naturally black into his eighties, and he loved to pat it down in his car mirror so it stayed just right.

Nana brought me something adorable, I’m sure, though I can’t remember what exactly it was at this point.  It had Pop-Pop’s name on it too, but Pop-Pop always loved going out and getting something special of his own to give his kids and grandkids.  When I turned 16 and received my driver’s permit, he had given me a miniature bright orange traffic cone that said “Practice Practice Practice,” on it.  I was expecting nothing short of spectacular this time around.

He handed me an unwrapped yellow box.  Curiously, I opened the top, pulling the three tabs up to reveal whatever treasure awaited me inside.  It was packed in white Styrofoam, which I squeakily pulled out.  Inside was something yellow and shiny.  I reached in and grabbed the cold object and brought it into the light.  I was perplexed.

It was a duck.  A smiling ceramic duck standing on huge orange webbed feet. He leaned a little bit to the left and was holding a pink ceramic flower between his wings. It looked like something you could get at a Hallmark store.  I thought Pop-Pop had picked it simply because it was cute and kind of odd looking – he loved things like that.

I barely had time to register what it was before Pop-Pop took it out of my hands, placed it on the glass coffee table in front of me, and hit it.  Startled, I watched it wobble from side to side with that silly look on its face.  I realized it was like a bobble-head doll, or one of those Hawaiian dashboard dancers.  Its legs were stationary, but its round body was free to move.

Still very confused, I looked to Pop-Pop for some sort of explanation.

“Shaky at first, but if you give it some time it’ll steady out.”

He was right.  All I needed was time.

Seventeen days after the accident, I finally got to take a shower.

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Storytellers: Ain’t No Fun

Some songs take years to write.  Others never make it past a few scribbled lines in a notebook.  Some come out exactly as you’d planned, and some take on a life of their own.  And others seemingly write themselves.  Such is the story of “Ain’t No Fun.”

It was spring of 2010. There was nothing on TV.  I had no homework to do.  So I watched about 100 YouTube videos of Emmylou Harris playing live.  After my Emmylou quota for the month was reached, I picked up my guitar, started strumming some chords, sang the first thing that came to my head, and TA DA!  A new song.

What I love about “Ain’t No Fun” is that it’s simple.  A story, narrated by me, of two young people who just can’t seem to have any fun.  Been there.  But it’s the simplicity of the music and lyrics that allowed everyone who played on it to have tons of fun in their performances.  The juxtaposition of the angst of the fictional characters and the merriment of the overall track is one of my favorite elements of this single (a theme we continued in the cover shot – leather and New York City t-shirt on the beach in November? Silly.)

So go ahead and have fun listening at the expense of the poor, bored characters… someone has to.

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