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I’ve mentioned a couple of times that since I started working on the heart chakra and the let-them-love-me meditation — or rather, mostly didn’t work on it, as the case may be — that I’ve had this bizarre symptom where a “wave” of emotion, feeling like a swell in the ocean that lifts you just for a moment and then is gone, will hit me, and my whole body will give these huge body-wide-shakes of sobs. Just one, maybe up to four. Gone before even a single tear can come around.

It’s like drive-by crying. It’s past before you even realize what’s going on.

Outside those sudden moments of intensity, there’s nothing. All the emotion I used to have with IG4 (Sedaena), I don’t have with IG5 (Mark). I know, it was explained to me that it’s there and I’m just not… not yet tuned to ‘where’ this is going on and with some release of heart stuff, I will be. Still, intellectually knowing doesn’t make it much better. And with my kid, I have nothing, and then what feels like hormonal surges of irritation and rage, and then they’re gone.

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Today’s Topic: Music

I felt that I was being encouraged back toward music, so I picked up my guitar.

I played daily for hours from the age of 13 to 22. No lessons and mostly what-I-knew or figured out on my own, so it wasn’t the same as it would have been had I actual training. Still I managed to develop quite a skill eventually. From 22-24 I’d moved to Los Angeles to be nearer the music scene for original stuff, got sidetracked into a hypnosis focus that I intended to be just for-awhile to help myself out, and was beyond “really busy” (like not sleeping, barely eating, massive stressed out), which was when the lipedema kicked in and I gained around 200# with impossible speed. Which dieting didn’t touch, so instead of killing myself I finally just refused to touch my guitar (because I got suicidal fast when I did) and concentrated on work and moved on.

And then I didn’t play for about 25 years, except maybe once every year or four I might play for two hours. The predictable result of this is that not only can I not remember the vast majority of my music, but what I can remember, I can’t play. It would probably take me five years of very serious time investment to get anywhere near the skill that I had when I stopped. And that’s assuming that it’d come back to me like the riding-a-bicycle theory.

I can play basic chords… I semi-suck at double-bar and jazz chords now, having lost the finger and hand strength that most women have to work up to but most men can do at age 13 without even thinking about it. Not to mention I lack the long monkey-arms men have for low-strung guitars, but I always lacked that. And my DDD chest and big upper arms now makes the entire situation ridiculous. Just keeping a proper hold on the damn thing is easier said than done even when sitting, and I’m trying to find my strap.

The fingers on both my hands are also fatter than they used to be. And stretching strings especially multiple I’ve lost entirely. Now I can still do basic fingerpicking, but suck at clarity-detail, and can’t do lead at all. That was the last thing I’d acquired — solely because I was far more interested in finger picking, and not until I started recording so I could do a separate track did I start having a place for my own lead instead of someone else’s — so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised if it was the first and is clearly the most major thing I’ve lost.

My guitar used to feel like an extension of me, I didn’t even think about it. Now it’s hard work. And you have to have your arms and hands in the right position for some things, which is more complicated when your own damn body is in the way all over — your arms, your breasts, your fingers. The combination of lack of skill and body discomfort makes this an entirely different experience.

But songwriting was always my outlet, until I abruptly stopped music, so I shouldn’t be surprised that my inner-self is asking for it.

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I have hundreds of songs. When I was 16, I had a little over 300 of them in a binder that I carried all over. By the time I was 19 I had a whole lot more. By then they were angrier and had epithets and needed drums and a male frontman. Much of what I wrote was for a band and a male singer. So if I sang some of them people might think I was a lesbian, not that I care, but they were intended for a man is all.

Most my songs are not about romance though, since songwriting was my angst vent. They are about politics, and social politics, and the over-development of my home town, and the inexorable stalking of time, and war, and so on.  When it was about men/women it was often not on the happy side of it. Example lyric lines:

Well don’tcha know John  / She’s already long gone
On her way to another … Impossible illusion
(Impossible Illusion, 1986)

Once I will be honest / Just one time I’ll be for real
My skin is velvet … But my heart is steel
(Steel, 1986)

So… not happy on the romance side.

I sometimes wrote  songs that years later other people also-wrote — different version obviously, but close enough I could no longer play my own version as it would just sound like I was ripping off something from the radio. That happened fairly often. Probably partly because I’m influenced by the same things other people writing songs are. And partly because I think creativity may draw from a sort of “energetic layer” that people all over the planet can tune into, so similar things ‘spontaneously’ get invented all over the place. It’s happened to me with fiction writing as well. Publish promptly or you’re doomed I guess is the moral of that story.

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Nearly all my songs are in a minor key. Pretty sure that out of perhaps 500 songs, maybe 15 are in a major key. All 15 are in the folk, country, or soft-pop category. Which is another way of saying that only about 3% of my songs don’t make you want to break something, get high or fling yourself from a ledge.

Actually I’m exaggerating. There’s probably half a dozen ‘humor’ from high school, and another dozen that are folk or torch-jazz-blues sort of music I wrote acapella while driving in L.A. around age 22-24, and perhaps half a dozen that are “kick-back or upbeat” sorts that could go with the rock category. Still, that is less than 5% of the overall.

Most rock and roll is not particularly happy. For that matter, most country isn’t either. Perhaps music as venting is common.

My primary influences were the Eagles and some of (particularly 70s work of) Elton John, with some Paul Simon (including his work with Art Garfunkel) and the popular songs of some rock bands like Aerosmith, Queen, Rush, R.E.M., Alice Cooper and Styx. All of them had the kind of music that at least sometimes would be called folk if it were just acoustic, but was rock ‘in context’ with a band. Some played folk as rock (like R.E.M.) and some played rock as folk (like Simon’s Hazy Shade of Winter, which The Bangles covered for a movie in much more the real-rock spirit the song deserves).

Of course, sometimes it’s the song more than the artist, and some artists just don’t do their own music nearly as well as anybody else does, like Springsteen, who after hearing Manfred Mann’s version of his Blinded by the Light should have just hired someone else to do covers of all his songs, since he sounds like a bored dylan on it and they totally rocked it into a different and much better song. Even Amy Ray (The Indigo Girls)’s simple acoustic cover of his Romeo and Juliet is better than his version. Then again, nobody could do his  I’m on Fire as well as he did, there’s that. That and Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game are surely two of the sexiest songs in the history of modern music.

I got addicted to Springsteen at one point. I felt that songs like The Jackson Cage were equivalent emotion to some of my stuff. I identified with a lot of his music, even when the music itself wasn’t necessarily my favorite stuff, I felt like I had something in common with the man behind it, you might say.

I liked pop and R&B as well, but mostly before radio “split.” In 1975 my radio station had Carol King folk, Aerosmith power rock, Freddy Fender country, the Jackson 5 R&B and the Beach Boys… whatever the hell they are genre-wise, pop I guess. By 1985 it seemed to have nothing but Madonna and her clones, unless you went to some other station where it had something completely different, but always all the same genre. I didn’t understand that this had happened actually, until a few years later, when I went to work at this place where the guys listened to a rock station, and the station was playing stuff like Rush. I was like, “Holy crap this is awesome! Where did this come from?? And here I’ve been suffering pop?!”  I listened to Spirit of Radio, their cynical commentary on the music industry, until my brain broke. I like the studio version much better than live since it requires some precision.

As a young girl I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be Aretha Franklin or Olivia Newton John, until I heard Karen Carpenter and fell in love. Which explains why I’m musically schizo perhaps. But by the time I was seriously songwriting, my singing sounded more like some cross between Steven Tyler (Aerosmith) and Lou Gramm (Foreigner), Don Henley (Eagles) and Elton John. My dad was a C&W covers guy. He couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to sing ‘pretty’ like girls were supposed to. I tried to get him to see that selling the song was the big deal of it. You were supposed to feel it, and people hearing it were supposed to feel that you felt it. Whether your voice sounded pretty was completely irrelevant since many of my heroes had sometimes breathy and usually scratchy voices, with yodel breaks all over.

Some of them did sing ‘prettily’ — Steve Perry of Journey and Freddie Mercury of Queen both had beautiful voices and sang a lot of falsetto. But the content of the songs influenced me too, and the Eagles had insightfully-intelligent-adult lyrics and Don always sounded like he meant it, whatever he was singing. So I think I was half in love with the gestalt-result and that added to the influence. Having something to say was big during the 70s in rock, perhaps left over from the wartime angst of the 60s, when message and raw delivery meant much more than typical pretty-voice talent, or Bob Dylan and Janice Joplin would never have reached the radio. There were occasionally examples of nonsense lyrics (Elton’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” was my favorite song for a long time, I was about 9 or 10 years old then, but it didn’t make any sense unless you got abstract about it) but most 70s stuff, if it wasn’t sheer having fun, meant something.

I’ve always had a secondary interest in what I call “funky under-beat” music, that is, songs that might have been kind of folk-pop or rock but had a groove “under” them. It’s difficult to explain, but I can example: Michael MacDonald’s Doobie Brothers song, “I Keep Forgetting” and Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do For Love“. (Bobby once said in an interview that for years, every time he showed up to sing somewhere, people were shocked-just-shocked that he wasn’t black, that cracks me up.) The combination of bass and drums like that, subtle but “groove,” is cool.

 

 

I had a habit of falling in love the “B” sides of 45’s instead of the popular song I’d bought them for. Here’s one example, an acoustic number by Jonathon Edwards called Emma.

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My dad had a reel-to-reel tape recorder and he had 4-6 hour collections of various artists. The Eagles, the Doobie Brothers, Chet Atkins, The Gatlin Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, were some of the artists I heard constantly as a result. I really love the old Gatlin bros. music, and Jerry Reed was the funk master of country who showed up from time to time in dad’s music. I loved Jerry’s stuff, and later stole one of his riff’s (from Blue Finger) for a song of my own once. Although I took it from what I picked up from hearing dad play one day which I don’t think is precisely the real thing — partly because dad didn’t teach me shit, if I wanted to learn anything I just had to listen and then run in my room and try to figure it out myself — but it’s pretty close.

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I did have a few female influences.

Linda Ronstadt is excellent. Some of her pop on the radio I’m not fond of. I think it makes her seem overrated in a way, but other songs on her albums are really great stuff they just don’t get the airtime. It was the songs that influenced me not her voice, but she does them well. Joni Mitchell’s album Blue I found utterly brilliant, but I didn’t hear that until I was about 21 so I don’t think it had much time to be too influential. My loss, of course.

Ann Wilson, who did vocals, flute, songwriting and sometimes guitar for the band Heart kicks ass. ‘Magic Man’ and ‘Crazy on You’ are two of the best songs of their decade.  Eons later she got fat, which given she was the front-man must have been just horrible for her. When I got fat I could barely leaving the house, I hid behind planters and columns in the mall if I saw someone I knew, it was just devastating, there was no way I was ever, EVER getting on stage like that. That she was willing to get on stage I found amazing, but perhaps she is a lot less neurotic than I am, which can only be a good thing.

(Then again, unlike most people, I did not gradually gain weight, so I never psychologically adapted to being 30# overweight, and then 70, and then 100, or whatever. I was a pretty normal size — by those days’ standards — and the next time I was even paying attention, I weighed over 300#. So the shock of the difference was so huge that might have been part of it.)

Somewhat after the fact, I found a band with a female lead (singer/ songwriter/ bassist/guitarist Aimee Mann) called ‘Til Tuesday, whose music I really liked, and like me she sang a lot in the resonant lower ranges. When younger I sounded so much like her when singing her stuff it was ridiculous. Amy looks like a pretty hybrid. (Seriously, tell me she doesn’t. She could be the poster child for the alien hybrid program.) I bought her solo album but despite listening to it once a year, about five times to see if something had changed, I never liked it. Go figure. I expected to love it. Like Linda, the stuff that made the radio most wasn’t the stuff on the album most worth hearing.

Singing with Ann or Joni made me sound like a girl. My dad would have been so proud.

I used to sing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” and Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” since they counted as country and it seemed to make him happy. Patsy was my mom’s favorite singer and Crazy was her favorite song.

When I was 5 years old I learned two songs. Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man,” which my mom taught me and had me sing at dad’s house concerts and other social events, since apparently this coming from a 5 year old was more than hilarious. And I learned — but never taught myself to play until my teenage years — Joan Baez’s cover of The Night They Drove ‘Ol Dixie Down from the 1960s. I have my own version of that — more gritty and slower and less strumming — it’s one of my favorite folk songs. To me, it’s a hard man’s song about a hard war and a hard time, and I think that comes through if you do it right.

Other songs I’d like to cover someday include If He’s Ever Near (because it has meaning to me about the 3rd of 4 and is lovely),  What You Won’t Do For Love (because I think it has a diff and very sexy connotation sung by a woman — in my world, only you… made me do for love, what I would not do…), and Son of a Preacher Man (because I think it should be soul’d-rock’d up some). By the way in that link, Dusty Springfield looks so much like my mom it freaked me out.

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So if you don’t play (let alone write) music for decades, and then you suddenly do, what happens?

Well, in 2004 I was at the bowling alley with my kid briefly, and on weekend nights, it’s dark but for the lane lights and they have a big screen with music videos and loud music. I saw this music video, “Wake Me Up” from Evanescence (with Paul McCoy of 12 Stones)  and I thought it was awesome. I went home and to the internet and looked for something else by Evanescence. I listened to their album Fallen obsessively for awhile. It was the first thing I’d heard in years and years that made me desperately MISS music, that made me miss playing and singing. I bought a pickup and small amp for my guitar, since dad has my Paul etc.

I think it’s that Amy Lee is venting her own angst — the entire album is like “dark angst” — and it must have just tuned into a lot of stuff I had slammed a lid on. I expect Ben Moody’s contribution was a big part of it though (founding guitarist, who was in a relationship with Amy and left the group in the middle of their early tour, just after their album hit the 10 million mark — he publicly admitted to bipolar diagnoses) since the second album the band released, I didn’t like nearly as well as the first.

I wrote a song — called Dorian Grey, a political song which is not what I expected to come out, but then all music urge was gone. As gone as when I finally had gotten it stuffed tightly back inside all those years ago.

It was like the emotion lately. Like drive-by songwriting. It wasn’t even 100% done before I’d moved on and suppressed all that emotion again.

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I thought maybe if I played guitar, emotion would come. So I played.

I wrote a stupid song the other day. Well, I wrote a song that is humiliatingly major-key, predictable folk soft-pop, the kind of music that most the time makes me want to vomit. (Unless others do it. I tend to like it fine when others do that kind of music, I can sing with it on the radio, I just don’t like it coming from me for some reason.) I’ve written approximately two songs like this out of many hundreds, is how rare it is for me.

It’s my ‘folk’ voice, which means ‘plain-jane’ on versus and ‘girlie’ on chorus I suppose. I have three basic “groups” of material: alternative rock, soulish, and folk.

If there is any redeeming angst element (I mean, to almost qualify it as something that came through me), it’s about death. Specifically about my brother dying and just wanting to say goodbye. He was a singer songwriter too by the way, and he was always very supportive of me and my stuff. He probably would have teased me a little about this one, just because it’s so simple — and uses an open-string sequence every human who ever picked up a guitar has written something with — but he would have liked it just because I did it, probably.

In 1995 I moved to Seattle and while I was living there initially, staying on the floor with a friend (a guy I met online, a magickian), I started having dreams about my brother Donny. We re-lived tons of events that I hadn’t remembered, in detail, as if we were just… I dunno, re-experiencing them, but sometimes there would be this element like changing something, or explaining something, better understanding something. I told my roommate, it’s so odd, but I keep dreaming about my brother! I hadn’t seen him in a few years.

I hadn’t talked to him in maybe nine months or so. Before I decided to move out of the state, he and I had seriously considered moving into a place together down by the Avenue in Ventura. I put a deposit down but it didn’t work out, and he got me my money back although it meant he actually lost a bunch. It wasn’t a good part of town but it wasn’t scary where we were planning, and he and I had this powerful bond ever since early childhood together. (I’ve had a few dreams of him sharing the soul of men that were loves in other lives.) I had this probably unrealistic dream in my head that I could provide some kind of goody-two-shoes stability for him. The only stability he ever had was during relationships with women as screwed up as he was, which is to say, never had any at all.

Then in the series of dreams, I had one where I wanted to look at something that upset me, and he wouldn’t let me. He kept distracting me, and he was sitting on the edge of the bed, insisting that I pay attention to him instead of what I wanted to go look at. Then he told me of the new album he had made. It was called “Skull and Crossroads,” and instead of the pirate bones it was crossing paths, one side into darkness and fog, and he played me some of the music on it, and I really liked it, I thought it was the best stuff I’d heard by him.  When I woke up, I had the feeling that he had died. That this is what had upset me initially and he wanted me to perceive it differently, and that this was his way. Strangely I felt that it wasn’t merely dream, but that on some level, he really was having that experience of “working through and wrapping up” this life, of making an album he was proud of, and so on.

I thought about it at work that day. I had no idea where to find him though. In fact, every time me and Donny would run into each other, it would be someplace truly bizarre. We’d go a couple years without seeing each other, and then it was time, so it would happen by chance, and when I say chance I mean the odds were so improbable that it would make us both laugh and remark on it.

Example: one day an acquaintance wants to go to the beach. She wants to go to a different beach than in our town, one down south. So we go, and we get in this rubber boat she’s got and start paddling out around this jetty, to get out into the water and past the breakers. And just as we come around this jetty, into the ocean in the middle of nowhere — there’s Don. He’s rowing a boat with a guy and we damn near ran into each other! We just stopped rowing with our mouths open for a minute, and then we both just burst into laughter. It was such a perfect example. In boats neither of us owned, with people neither of us usually hung out with, offshore a city where neither of us lived, in the middle of the damn water, we nearly run into each other. Seriously, what are the odds.

I once ran into him in an impossibly tiny head shop that was underground, under a thrift store downtown. I had never been to any of the little stores in that area and didn’t know that one existed. A friend was visiting an herbalist not far away, and I was wandering the area waiting for her, and I just ended up there out of curiosity and literally ran into him.

Anyway. The next day after that dream I was about to leave for work when my cousin Roni called me. She said she’d been trying to reach me for a month to tell me that my brother Don had died nearly a month prior. He’d overdosed on heroin. He’d been clean for quite awhile. He’d also been looking for me a lot right before he died. Perhaps to touch base, as they say some people do before checking out. When she told me some of the situation, though, she and I both felt it was suicide. That he just looked down the road of life and was unable to see any chance of a happy ending. It looked accidental and of course that’s the only reason his kids (all girls living with their moms) got financial coverage. But I’m not sure it was.

Anyway. So I wrote a silly major-key predictable “catharsis” easy listening song for Donny. I expect he’d find it humorous but sweet.

And apparently it being retarded did not prevent the emotion because every time I tried to sing it I would start crying. Unfortunately most of this happened while I was driving down the road, so I had to stuff it down and not cry, because I couldn’t see. The fact that my eyes were tearing up is a sign that it’s a lot more emotion than the drive-by-sobs have been though.

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So I think Mark is indicating, indirectly, that it’s just time for me to move on. I just need to keep doing what I’m doing. Meditate, pray, play guitar, whatever, and regularly ask for help with the heart-chakra and PTSD stuff, and give “life” — the music, the meditations, in this case — the chance to work through some of the emotion as part of process.

If the song didn’t embarrass me I’d record it and post it.

P