Hindsight & Letting Go

Hindsight, they say, is 20-20, but I must have an astigmatism or something, because it takes me a long time to focus. One indication of this is popular music of different eras. Outside of the 1960s and the first half of the ’70s, I liked very little of what was popular at the time. These days, however, I’m able to turn back to the music of the 1980s and even some of the ’90 and like a lot of what I hear. For me, the same holds true—in reverse—where my own music is concerned.

My regular readers, those who have migrated with me from my old blog, know what I mean when I use the term, “The Big Dump of 2001.” For the rest of you, here’s a brief explanation: Through a scam enacted against me by a storage facility in Denver, in 2001 I lost nearly everything I owned. I wasn’t alone. both my mother and my eldest son lost their things as well. Family heirlooms, musical instruments, an entire collection of family photographs, correspondence dating back to the late 1800s, furniture, art, and nearly every piece of music and song I’d ever penned. It has taken me years to lose the hole in my gut this loss created and even now, late at night when I’m trying to sleep, the ghosts come back to torture me. Usually, I can philosophize it, but it’s not easy. Up until just this week, though, I counted my music as the greatest loss to me. I mourned that loss for years.

But the other day during rehearsal it occurred to me that this particular loss might actually be a blessing. Knowing I could never do it myself, the Universe cleaned my files, so to speak, tossing out all the stuff that wasn’t quite up to par. It became obvious to me that the songs I do remember are the good ones. When a fragment of one came back to me as I sat there, I realized that it, frankly, just wasn’t a good song. This gives me the unique opportunity to start building a really good body of work now that I’m more seasoned as a musician and better versed as a lyricist. Like stones in my pockets, the old stuff was holding me down. You know the kind of stuff I mean. Those songs, poems, stories, paintings, whatever, that you kind of cringe at whenever you come across it. The stuff that has a way of gently nipping at your confidence.

The newer songs I’ve written, those penned in the past five years, are really pretty good, if I say so myself. I have more creative muscle than I had when I was younger. I’m better at discerning good songs from bad, and I’m not afraid to be brutal with myself while I’m at it. And best of all, I won’t have all that old stuff for people to pick apart after I’m gone.

Toni Morrison Quote

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Behind the Lash and the Circles Blue

Joni Mitchell

It’s hard to describe the immensity of the influence Joni Mitchell’s music has had over both my music, my personal life, and even my artistic direction. I didn’t hear her until KNX-FM in LA played her song, The Priest one winter day in 1969. FM radio was still rather new in those days and it brought with it commercial-free, sophisticated music. Instead of pop singles, FM’s playlists were made up mostly of album cuts, introducing listeners to music not deemed “hit material” by AM stations. Once I discovered FM I never went back to AM. While I know that I’m not the only singer-songwriter who fell under Joni’s spell all those years ago, her music had a way of feeling personal. Simpatico. But then again, I wasn’t alone in this. Not by a long shot.

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I first heard her name when I was singing outside the fish and chips shop in Haight-Ashbury, playing my 12-string and trying to earn enough to buy some dinner. A guy stopped and listened to me for a while, then said to me, “You sound a lot like Joni Mitchell.” I wasn’t too happy to hear that; I’d worked very hard to develop a guitar and vocal style that would be all mine. When my stint in the Haight was over, I went back home to southern California. I’d forgotten the name, but not the comparison. When I finally heard her I realized I was in trouble. It was Joni’s upbeat songs that made my heart sink, as much as I liked them. The rhythms, the strumming, the chording… songs like Conversation and Chelsea Morning were enough like some of my own songs that I knew I was going to be thought of as an imitator rather than an innovator. I heard the comments from time-to-time, but I never really knew what to do about it.

But Joni was something beyond what I was. Exceptional, something else, indefinable. She is a Renaissance Woman of the highest order. Between Joni Mitchell and Anaïs Nin, the decade of my early twenties was a time of radical change, of recreating myself almost daily, of learning how to live artfully by treating my life as if it were my canvas. They taught me to run toward love, afraid of missing an experience rather than of being hurt. They taught me to express myself through anything I put my hand to, and they taught me to be unapologetic where my identity as an artist is concerned. What a pair of women to have as muses!

A year later I was living in Laurel Canyon, in a house where Joni had spent a great deal of time when Steven Stills lived in it around the time of Woodstock. We knew many of the same people, but we never met. We always just missed each other. The first time I heard her Blue album, I was sitting in a beanbag chair looking out at the city below late one night, headphones on. She’d gone far beyond where I was, musically. I no longer had to worry about being compared to her. (You can read an old blog entry I wrote about this period of my life by clicking here.) Encountering her music actually sent me in another direction, though, one that worked well for me through the following years.

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Joni painting by the pool at Shady Oak, the house I lived in not long after.

As I write this, Joni is in the hospital after having been found unconscious in her home in LA. I hope morning brings good news, but if not, we need not fear losing her, because the music and the poetry of both her work and her life will remain to inspire us for a long, long time.

joni3

Visit Joni Mitchel.Com

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Dog Days

Nigel

I can’t remember a time growing up when I didn’t have a dog. My first, a Dalmatian named Lady, was given to me when I was barely four. She didn’t last long, though. When she bit me Dad decided she had to find another home. Next was Skibo, a black Cocker Spaniel. She was our family dog until I was 16. When Skibo (pronounced Skee-bow) was about five we got another dog, a black miniature Poodle (the mid-size, not the tea cup). He was my favorite and lived to be my eldest son’s first dog. When Skibo and Pierre died in their turns, we adopted Shadow, a Cockapoo. She was really my mom’s dog, but she took to me.

When I remarried we got an Irish Setter we named Essau, but when the divorce happened, he went with my ex-husband. I went through a terribly unsettled period then and somewhere in there I acquired an Old English Sheepdog, Sebastian. I had to find him a new home when I moved to England. I went a few years without a dog then, but as soon as I was more settled I got a black Labrador Retriever named Cleo, but we just called her The Lug. Don’t ask… The Lug had a good and happy life and was a great dog and, when she died of cancer in her old age, I got a Yorkshire Terrier named Fritz. He was a rescue dog and I loved him as much as I’d loved Pierre. What a pal! Fritz saw me through a lot of tough times during the year I spent as my dad’s primary caregiver at the end of his life. Many nights I cried, and Fritz was there to comfort me or make me laugh. What a dog!

After Fritz was gone I just couldn’t invest myself in another dog friendship. I moved to Stillwater, where we were adopted by a cat whom we call Lowrider. Eventually I started to miss the companionship of a dog and, being ill and rather housebound, I decided it was time. Enter, Nigel. A Dachsador, Nigel was born to Ville’s Miniature Doxie, Pepper. When Ville rescued her, she had no idea the little dog was preggers, or that the sire was a Labrador.

Wait. Whut?

Did your head just spin? The breeding was a result of neglect on the previous owners’ part. Pepper had five pups, but only two survived, a female (Annie, who lives in Edmond with some friends of ours) and Nigel. Even Nigel barely survived the ordeal (oddly, Pepper made it through just fine). Ville had to give Nigel mouth-to-snout resuscitation to get him to breathe. He won my heart and I brought him home.

Nigel at six weeks

I’ve never been a big Dachshund fan, but I figured the Labrador half of him would balance things out a bit. Wrong. Nigel is a Dachshund on crack. Everything is super-sized. His playfulness, his intelligence, his alertness, his vocabulary, his protective instincts, his stubbornness, and his bark. This is not a yapping dog. This is a dog with a deep, Labrador sized, full-chested, high-decibel bark and, because his hearing is so acute, he barks at everything. Every. Thing. Bicyclers, skateboarders, pedestrians, honking horns, an acorn dropping onto the roof, a flea crossing the road…

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Nigel is a great dog. If we could master this one issue, he could very well top Pierre—and even Fritz—as the smartest dog I’ve ever known. He’s a happy dog, too. One of this designer breed’s characteristics is their absolute joyfulness, and Nigel has it in spades. He loves babies and children and cats. There’s no one he doesn’t love. Nearly two years ago we adopted a kitten, L’il Mozie, and I swear he and Nigel are brothers. They play and chase and groom, friends to the end.

I love Nigel to bits and pieces, but his barking taints it. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is seriously affected by adrenalin spikes, and excitement of any kind, either good or bad, send me into a full day of fatigue and lethargy. Nigel’s barking is the biggest threat I face each and every day. I’m at my wits’ end. I’ve tried everything from Dog Whisperer training to a collar impregnated with mommy hormones to activate his endorphins and keep him calm, to herbal doggy downers, but it’s no better than it was before. My next recourse is a citronella spray collar. Hey, maybe it’ll come in handy for me as well. Might keep the mosquitoes away this summer.

“Among God’s creatures two,
the dog and the guitar,
have taken all the sizes and all the shapes
in order not to be separated from the man.”
Andres Segovia

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May I Clarify?

clarifyOK, so I think a little clarification on some blog-related things might be a good idea in case any of you are a little confused. Basically, this blog is for my enjoyment as well as that of my family and friends and whoever else would like to join in. It’s not a promo blog, a business blog, a pundit blog, or a “see what a clever writer/comedian/homemaker I am” blog. It’s a personal blog and, as such, its tone and direction will change according to whatever I’m writing about. Some days writing, some days music, some days the family, and some days my usual stream of consciousness thoughts. If I had any direction in mind when I created it, it was to have a blog in the style of what I consider to be the peak years of personal blogging, that is, 2002 to about 2006. So here is a list of things about this new blog.

  • There will never be a buttload of widgets and apps in my sidebar. For one thing, they slow pages down for a lot of people and for another, they’re an eyesore.
  • NO ADS! That I typed that in all-caps should be a clue to how much I loathe Adsense ads on personal blogs.
  • I have not provided an RSS feed or any kind of subscription widget (except for my books and music mailing list, which is a separate entity), because I prefer people to make a personal visit to read my posts. In my opinion, it was the feed readers that started the whole decline in personal blogging long before the social networks took over. People weren’t visiting blogs anymore. Why bother when you can read posts in an email? I never liked that and I’ve never read ANY blog this way. It’s kind of like emailing friends and family instead of visiting them. If you want to keep up with this blog, you can “Follow” via my Networked Blogs widget. Also, when I write a new post, I always post the link in Facebook. I’ve gotten back to Tweeting it as well.
  • May I ask you to leave your comments here on the blog rather than in the aforementioned social networks? It doesn’t take any more time, and I miss the interaction. I know that simply clicking “Like” is easier (I do too much of that myself), but when I compare online conversation to actual verbal conversation, I think it’s tantamount to devolving to grunts. Between Liking, Favoriting, emoticons, and stickers, online dialogue may disappear altogether. Obviously, if you really want to keep your comments in Facebook or Twitter, I’m not going to get all mad or anything. I appreciate comments however they’re delivered! But if it’s not something your opposed to, I’d really prefer them to be left on the actual post. Thanks!
  • If you’re a new visitor and would like me to visit your blog, just leave a comment and give me your link.

That’s is, really. I move that this session be adjourned. All in favor?

Have a great day!

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