Sunday, July 5, 2015

Here From There


Today I went to hear a bluegrass band in a small Tennessee town park that was lead by a man named Robert E Lee, who played a bit late after a botched American flag burning ceremony lead by a group of Legionnaires while it sprinkled rain, after a very long and exhausting kayak on the wide River with a fast current. Tonight I watched my favorite display of fireworks so far that I can recall, special because they were semi private, not a thousand people crammed together, but a few families along a river.  The lights snapped crackled and popped over our heads and I thought of last year, alone at home, and what Jamey said to me while floating along Goat Island this morning, that from where we were two years ago, there was no way to get here from there. 
Here from there.
And the miracle of a small town hot dog with a Korean War veteran, a shy little girl smiling on a pony ride, and a fantastic display of sparkling lights exploding in the sky above my head which rested on his shoulder like home.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

June 26, 2015

Tonight I got to watch the re-airing of the President's eulogy for Rev. Pickney's funeral as I got back to the hotel after a long day and a long week of doing my best to give these girls some tools to write songs, some confidence that music is in everyone and that music is not a competition and that music can be a way to express our secrets safely and can be a way to heal ourselves and our communities and can be a way to express joy and love and there was President Obama, stretching his own comfort zone, stretching from speech into song, into Amazing Grace, in a speech that was maybe the most moving oration I've ever heard in my lifetime, a lifetime that started with a misguided war and a deposed shady President, a lifetime that started in the year of the summer of love but a childhood under a cynical view of leaders and politics, names of the dead scrolling down the TV screen, long lines to get gas, a hostage crisis, a shooting of a president, the live explosion of the Space Shuttle on the TV in my Algebra class, my first vote being for someone for whom I didn't even really care except his Party allegiance, to my 20's when I could vote for someone I did stand behind who was dynamic and, in the end, completely disappointed me personally, not in his very human failing but in his equivocations which were insulting, to personally watching the Towers fall from the edge of the Hudson River and the dust of the debris gave me a bronchitis I couldn't kick for months, and a President who hovered over a darkness and deceit for 8 awful years and my cynicism grow until the day in 2007 when I heard that Obama had won while I was in a meditation retreat and away from cell phones and computers and television and had to celebrate silently, tears streaming down my face, to tonight, to this morning, to this heavily weighted gorgeously poignant week. A President of half a different skin color than my own with a middle name that made me think his election would be impossible in this very divided nation. A President of my own generation. A President who had a checklist of things to do when he arrived in 2008 and has sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly checked things off that list. A President who miraculously passed an affordable healthcare act that has allowed me to be able to have affordable healthcare and not go bankrupt trying to beat my asthma each winter. A President who paved the way for the Supreme Court today to rule that marriage is a right for every person, every citizen. A President who eulogized a man shot down by a racist and who sang "Amazing Grace". This day I want to remember my friend Dave Stefano, who came out to me my sophomore year of college, and, when I said, "oh, yeah, that's cool" he said to me, "No, I know it makes you uncomfortable and if you want to ask me any questions, let's do it" and he took me to an all night diner in Florence, MA and we sat up till dawn eating pancakes so I could ask him questions about how he knew, when did he know which honestly was the door that opened me from being ignorant and fearful of the unknown to being curious and open. And today I have spent this day unabashedly emotional in my patriotism. I did not think in my lifetime I'd ever see something like this. And by "something like this" I mean all of it.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Spent




A couple of weeks ago I got a random call from a writer from The New York Times. Full disclosure, it was acclaimed author Ron Lieber, with whom I went to Amherst College.  He was editing a special section of the Times that would include stories about financial turning points and remembered I’d written a Facebook post a little over a year ago about my process of looking into buying a house and having to move.  He invited me to contribute something to this special section. He wrote me, “Maybe an essay….maybe even a song.”  I was in the studio on the day of the release of my newest album, ‘That Kind Of Girl,’ making another record with a side project of mine called Applewood Road (an acoustic trio of three women singer/songwriters) and my first thought was ‘Now? I’m completely exhausted…”  My second thought was ‘THE New York Times? Hell yes!’  You see, a few months ago, maybe even a year ago, I started contemplating a life that had more balance.  A life that included less time wasted in cheap motels in days off in between shows miles away from home. A life that would make space for gardening, time at home with friends, dating, maybe even – gasp – a relationship.  And part of that contemplation involved a lot of meditating and prayer about wanting to write more and tour less. Not just songwriting. Whatever-writing.  A week prior to Lieber’s invitation came another invitation to guest write for a column in the Nashville Scene. So my prayers were being answered, I could see that and be really grateful for it, but the timing was a bit fishy. I was overwhelmed and depleted and didn’t think I could do it.

Knowing that I had to do this, not ‘gun to the head’ kind of have to but a personal mission of ‘I WILL do this’ kind of have to, I called Neilson Hubbard, one of my favorite people and one of my favorite songwriters. I told him the assignment. I said, we have to do this today. He said, ‘I’ll be over at 5.”  That’s the best thing about living here in East Nashville. I am surrounded by people way more talented than I am, way more fluid as songwriters, as musicians.  And we live within a mile or so of each other. We write songs. We record songs. We play guitar or bass or drums or produce or tour. When we are home we are HOME. When we are not, we are in far flung places for a good amount of time.  And when called upon to write a song, we show up and write a song. I have a wonderful group of songwriters I meet with mostly every week to share new songs with, for critique, for the experience of throwing a new idea out to the world. We write all the time. Because our neighbors are writing all the time.  It’s not a competition at all here in any kind of negative way; it’s more of a call to arms to the artist inside. Create! Produce! I love it. I feed on it and being here in the middle of the juice has made me a better writer. 

We wrote a song called “Spent” in about an hour.  It was easy to write once we decided our subject matter was pretty much right next door.  We live in East Nashville, TN, a bohemian neighborhood in Music City right across the Cumberland River from downtown that, for many years, has been home to one of the most diverse populations in this city.  Bisected by Gallatin Pike where an uber-hip coffee shop might sit in between a Discount LIquor Store and a Check Cashing Shop, this area is peppered with quaint cottage homes, that, until just a year ago, were affordable for the Artist Class. 

In the past five years, we’ve seen an explosion here in development downtown, and that has crept across the river to East Nashville, as well, where small, once-affordable homes are being bulldozed to make way for quickly-built condos and larger homes.  The artist class is being pushed out to make way for the nouveau riche hipster. 

A little more than a year ago, the owner of the home I’d been renting for 5 years gave me a month’s notice to buy the place or find someplace new. I started the process of looking into buying a home of my own for the first time, which was daunting.  I am a single woman in my mid 40’s.  I make a living at making music. I do not have a ‘dayjob’. This is my dayjob. And I make a living at my art, which is a dream fulfilled. 

But for many of us working-class musicians, painters, artists, writers, we live a precarious financial existence of our own choosing.

I remember a few years back, a conversation with my father.  He’d been a company man for my entire life. A salesman, then a Regional Manager, then a Vice President, then one of a handful of owners who bought the company they’d worked with for many years.  I remember the year of the buyout well, because my father was able to buy all four of us kids cars – not new ones, used ones, but our own car.  We all got computers. I didn’t have to carry a student loan for my final year of college. My parents’ took us all on an incredibly extravagant vacation where we learned to sail a boat together.  A few years later, though, the owners sold the company to a multi-national, whose executives then turned around and ‘let go’ of the original owners one by one. My father was jobless at an age (and salary) it would be impossible to compete with younger men and women competing in the same field for less money.  My father was out of a job but more than that, he was deprived of the thing he’d been working for all those loyal years: the golden ring at the end of the 1950’s corporate rainbow – the retirement party, the big hoopla over a life well-spent towing the party line.  My Dad did all right on his own, created his own company and consulting business until he chose to retire to volunteer for the Boy Scouts of America and spend more time with his church and with my mother and his grandchildren.  All the time I was in my 20’s and 30’s, working three jobs, trying to ‘make it’ as an actress and then a singer and songwriter, bartending by night, personal assistant or temp-secretary by day, working my way up the artistic food chain until I had a manager, a booking agent, a label, until someone famous recorded a song I’d written and gave me my ‘break’ and I could live very modestly off my artistic work without a support job…all that time my parents held their skeptical tongues. Until one day, my father said to me, looking back upon his own career, “I’m so proud of you. You are your own boss of your own business. You did something you love. That’s the most important thing in the end.”  It was one of the most important conversations I’ve ever had with him.  That he saw me and got it. 

I have a friend who used to say “We don’t make great livings but we have great lives.”

We are the artist class. Some months we make nothing. Some we make $10,000.  It’s the rare one of us who knows how to manage our money.  And it’s the very rare one of us that has a corporate entity like a Major Record Label who pays for all the things we need to make our art.  We are all independent artists in the end. And we rely upon our audience in order to make a life and a living. Whether that be from record sales off the stage, the cost of a ticket to see a live show, or help from Kickstarter or Pledge or any other patronage that may luckily come our way.

I did find a house I could afford and, with the help of a generous friend, we entered into a rent-to-own situation and, for that, I am extremely grateful.  But they are tearing down the small cottage homes nearby to throw up $400,000 homes and changing the aesthetic and social fabric of this little area where a session musician or a non-famous folk singer could once buy a house and a piece of the proverbial Dream. 

"Spent"  (Amy Speace/Neilson Hubbard)

Come take my hand let's walk to the end of this rainbow
Do you think that we'll ever know
Where to find all that gold

Once I heard someone singing a dream we could have and hold
Something of our own
A place to call home

We're head over heels
And in over our heads
We borrow and steal to pay the rent
How we gonna save any money when it's already spent

Years keep rolling the houses keep falling like dominos
They're throwing up condos
The new for the old

It's not enough to hear your own song on the radio
When your credit is far below
What they need for a loan

We're head over heels
And in over our heads
We borrow and steal to pay the rent
How we gonna save any money when it's already spent

Can we stay or do we have to go
Could this be the end of the road
How we gonna save any money...

We're head over heels
And in over our heads
We borrow and steal to pay the rent
How we gonna save any money when it's already spent

Friday, January 2, 2015

Resolutions


I'm not much on resolutions.  I can resolve all I want and the next day something will come up because something always comes up and there goes my resolve, melting like the butter on my toast.  And then I'm left with soggy burnt bread and a deflated ego that says "you failed again, didn't you." So rather than resolve, how about I intend a few things? Intentions seem more honest to me. Intentions have an out clause, an apology built in for human frailty.  Intentions say "I'm going to do my best and I know I'm flawed so if I don't make it each time, it'll all be ok."  Resolutions demand. Intentions ask. Resolutions are the closed fist of an aggressor, challenging the Gods. Intentions are an open palm to the kinder spirits. 

2014 started out in the perfect place: in confusion. It might be my age, but I honestly don't remember where I was on New Year's Eve last year. Was I with friends? Was I at home alone? I just can't remember.  This year, looking back on the past 10 or so, I remembered the long-ago years at Steve & Alex's brownstone in Jersey City, 3 years in a row or more, I think.  Great dinners -  the four of us, sometimes five or six depending upon who was visiting, loads of good cheese and bread and wine (so much wine...blue-stained-teeth kind of nights).  We'd have these amazing intellectual conversations about music and art and film, laugh and dance to the Rolling Stones until the words started slurring and I'd slink an Irish Goodbye out the backdoor at about 2am before anyone could see how sad I'd become, leaving the party to rage without me until the sun rose. Those were great dinner parties and I remember them fondly. At least the first few hours. That's about how it always was.  I'm not in touch with them anymore, the friendship went the way of the marriage as these things sometimes do... and in my gut, I can almost physically remember the disparity between the beginning of the night and the end. Before the ball drops and after. It was always a tricky thing, getting out before the sparkle changed.

Where was I last year? I honestly can't remember...

I remember chasing cabs in the heart of the Village, party-hopping in heels with friends, in my early and late 20's on a champagne and tequila buzz, heading to the Jane Magazine Party because we knew someone who knew someone. Or landing in a dive bar on Avenue C that had the best jukebox in the City, loaded with Lou Reed and Jerry Lee Louis and Louis Armstrong.  Or at the Pierre Hotel with Lainie Kazan and Gregory Hines and Bette Midler because I was Lainie's assistant, dressed in black velvet, holding Lainie's purse.  Later in my 30's, I remember watching the Macy's fireworks from the rooftop of a friends' Jersey loft, surrounded by friends and lonely at the same time, freezing in the night. I remember my childhood, being babysat by my beloved grandmother, triscuits and cream cheese while we counted down along with the television. 

But I don't remember where I was last year.

So that's the way 2014 began: in a daze.  I worked. I toured. I wrote. I was stuck. By February, I was still in a daze and decided to do something about it and confront some huge dark cloudy shadowy things that I'd been dragging alongside of me, using them to cover me up like a blanket at times, making excuses for years, standing (depending upon my mood) defiantly in front of them, hiding behind them, sometimes denying their existence, sometimes trying to stomp them out by force, sometimes letting them just lay on top of me so I could sleep in the dark.  So for a week last winter, I stood directly in front of these monsters, called them by name, decided they looked a bit less scary and maybe looked a bit like myself at age 7, like a favorite photograph: a floppy hat with blonde braids at the lake, a pink misfitting bikini, my long gangly legs and arms akimbo, crooked teeth, freckled cheeks. Awkward and beautiful.  In February, at a high ropes course in Memphis just down the street from where I'd made a record a few years before with the late-great Sid Selvidge, I walked out over a 50 foot drop on a single wire, repeating silently the Lord's Prayer over and over like a mantra to keep my legs steady so I wouldn't slip off the rope until the paralyzing and terrifying fear of heights gave way to a calm trust and the shaking and tears slid away and morphed into a giddiness I'd never felt until I was skipping across that tightrope.  I came home from Memphis the day I turned 46, a hard turn, no longer in my 'early 40's', like a pivot northward, and yet, felt younger than I had in years, and after February, something shifted and everything started to change. An ease... Music poured out. I did more yoga. I laughed more. I made more friends. And in the very last few hours of summer, I fell in love for the first time in a very long time. Maybe for the first real time ever.  And so next year, when looking back on how 2014 ended, I'll remember where I was on New Year's Eve. I know this to be true.

Back to those intentions.

I'd like to be better at making time to exercise when touring. I'd like to make time to write every single day, not just think it's a good idea and then not do it myself. I'd like to write letters, not just texts. I'd like to finish more books than I start. I'd like to save more money than I spend. I'd like to be the best friend I can be. I intend to listen more and talk less. I intend to sleep longer. I intend to Allow. Rather than Resist. I know this sounds a bit New Agey but I was a fist pumping angry atheist a few years ago, and then cardinals started appearing, and then I lost my voice for a month, and then I went to learn to meditate with some Buddhists, and then my inner voice split in two during a 3 hour sit and I'm fairly sure I heard the voice of Truth, and then I stopped drinking and then I stopped lying and then I stopped all of it and stood still. And then when I'd stopped looking, the thing I was searching for found me.

Happy New Year, indeed.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Badassery #101






I'm in the final days of my Pledgemusic.com campaign and it's nail-biting time.  I've raised 79% of what I need to raise. I have 3 days.  So I'm bugging the shit out of everyone I know. I'm not asking for much. I'm asking for everyone who likes my music to just pre-order an autographed copy of the record for $25 or pre-order a digital copy for $10. You'll get the record digitally by December 23rd and the hard copy way earlier than the release date (March 3).  I need a few more people to help out in order to meet my goal.  I hate these things, but in the age of If You're Over 25 Don't Come Looking For A Record Deal, we need to do things differently.  So here's what I've posted on Facebook:

In case you're wavering...I wrote songs for this record during a really clear and sober period of my life, looking back on a not-so-clear-and-sober period of my life. I looked at the messes I've made, the messes I was in the process of cleaning up and I wrote about it. It's the most clear eyed piece of work I've done. This is me, waving the flag, saying, this is the best I've done. It's the best I can do. For now. I had some help. Great writers like Beth Nielsen Chapman, Ryan Culwell, Ben Glover, Kate Klim and Neilson Hubbard helped me get rid of the fat of some of the poetic bullshit, where I was holding the truth at arms length with froof, and I just said what it was was that needed to be said until I bled on the page. Then I sang it until I bled on the microphone. It was gross. It was sweaty. It wasn't pretty. And now that it's done it's gorgeously real and if I get hit by a bus and this is the last record I make, I'll die satisfied. Ish. (Not really. And I shouldn't have written that. And I'll be looking both ways when I cross the street today) (this photo is by Stacie Huckeba, my favorite photographer and writer, and one of my circle of women-I-would-take-a-bullet-for, who used this photo in a kickass blog she wrote for the Huffington Post. Because Stacie is not afraid to speak the truth and she inspires me on a daily basis).

And I mean it. Stacie is a badass. I'm doing my best to just follow in her footsteps. Anyway, if you're so inclined, here's my link. Please pre-order. I've got only a few hours to raise $25,000. I'd love your help.

p.s. I didn't love this photo when I first saw it. It freaked me out. I thought I looked fat. Honestly. Then Stacie asked permission to post it to the entire Universe with her blog about being Awesome. How could I say no? So I did my best Lena "I'm a badass" Dunham impression and said yes. And figured, I'll pretend I'm ok with it and maybe I'll just become ok with it. And you know what happened? I got ok with it. I love this photo now. I love it in the way I love Lena Dunham. And I'm currently writing a book that's kind of a memoirish jumble of stories, tall and small tales. Some true. And I may even call it Flawed and make this the jacket cover. Cause I'm inspired by Stacie and Lena. And if I act like a badass, even if I don't always feel like one, maybe I'll just become one...isn't that how this whole thing works? 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Grand Ole Opry

I'm about to name drop, but it's not for the usual purpose of name-dropping. It's a gratitude post. Or at least that's my intention. Here we go....

So last night Mary Gauthier invited me and my friend Jamey to watch her from backstage at the Opry. I've been a few times to see the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman, but I've never seen it at Opryland, which seats like 5,000 people. Last night Mary Gauthier AND Kathy Mattea were on. I was a bit starstruck at what was on the walls as we passed by photos of Johnny and June, Chet, Loretta, we walked past Little Jimmy's dressing room. Jamey had been there and knew people, could tell me names of country artists in photos that I didn't recognize. He knew some folks in the band, he told me a bit of the history of the show, the place. There's sweet tea on tap backstage at the Opry, which gave me one of those "I'm so glad I moved south" moments. Kathy was in her dressing room with her band, just eating a hot dog, being all normal as if it was no big deal - just another day at The Opry. Mary was dressed in a sparkly black jacket. The Whites were onstage singing in perfect harmony. The house was sold out. We went around front to watch Mary's set from the back of the orchestra level. I wanted to see this from the front, to see the jumbotron, to see the crowd. I watched Mary, the first 'out' performer to play on the Grand Ole Opry, wave at the front row which, she told me later, had a few hand-holding gay and lesbian couples. Kathy joined her on her second number to sing. And I watched these two women stand on that circle of wood from the original opry, the circle of wood that Johnny Cash stood on, that Hank Williams stood on, that so many stood on, and I saw the two women who held my hand literally and figurative for the past 5 years, who were gentle guides on the path of Where I Needed To Get To In Order To See What I Needed To See To Become Who I Could Finally Start Becoming, both in my career, in my music, in my art, in my spirit, but mostly in my soul. And I grabbed my friend's hand and I almost started to cry right there, filled with an enormous sense of gratitude and Amazing Grace. I may never have my chance to sing on that stage and that's ok with me. I got to see two women who I admire greatly who were there when I needed female mentors in this male-dominated business who are my friends.

We go what we go through to get where we are.