Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Creative recharges can come from surprising sources.

Anybody who knows me well knows I'm pretty much a Luddite when it comes to digital technology and I'm usually quite resistant to keeping up with the latest and greatest.  But after traveling with the Sallies for the last few years and hearing about (and frankly, witnessing) the wonders of the iPhone, I finally caved in and got one.  Wow.  Talk about falling hard.  In Utah I remember they always talked about how converts to Mormonism were the most hardcore.  I'm definitely a full-on proslytizer for the wonders of the iPhone.  The thing that's surprised me the most is that for the first time in my life, I love taking pictures - especially portraits.  I guess hanging around Tom all these years has rubbed off on me. Come to think of it, my Mom loves to paint portraits, too.  It's not like I haven't had cameras before - but I never really enjoyed them.  There's something about the iPhone camera and me that is totally clicking - and from what I've observed on Instagram that seems to be true for millions of people.

I have to say that for the past year or two I've been feeling a little burnt out creatively.  Not the performing kind of creativity, but the giving birth to a new and fresh idea, the lonely kind of songwriting creativity.  It just hasn't been calling out to me.  Intuitively I started to figure out that I'd have to do a kind of an end-run around songwriting and try to open myself up in other ways, and from that maybe the old muse would start to reappear.  I think it's working, but more than that, I'm opening myself up to the idea that there are so many more ways to express myself and that the best thing I can do is go towards what excites me - it will all work out in the end!

Here are some of my favorite portraits from the last few weeks in no particular order. If you follow me on Instagram (under the name Blame Sally) you might have already seen some of them.

Linda, Mati and I had an amazing "girl day" last week, that included Tilden Park, Thai Food, Korean Spa, Margaritas and was finished off with the most decadent ice cream sundaes ever!  Here is Linda after the spa - but before the ice cream :-)

Asha lives upstairs and we went for a walk the other day in Temescal.  Her Mom and Dad are our landlords, but we think Asha's really in charge. 


Beth and I have been in a book group together for about 15 years.  Isn't she gorgeous? 


Cat's are people, too.  This is Hissy Fit.  She lives outside and we've pretty much adopted her.  She's a little unpredictable, but when you turn the camera lens on her she acts like Marilyn Monroe. 


Mara is my wonderful, talented, beautiful niece.  You saw her in the "Bird in Hand"video, which she choreographed and danced in.  She lives about 10 blocks from me so last week we went to the Farmer's market together. 


Mati - she is my muse!  Since she moved into the neighborhood we've been hanging out a lot, so she is the victim of my camera quite frequently.  But I think she always looks beautiful - and she's game.  Here she is sitting among the purple flowers that reside a few houses away from me.  



Rosie is the indoor cat, and honestly, she's a bit of prima dona when it comes to posing.  You'd think she was being constantly hounded by the paparazzi the way she acts.  She is the opposite of Hissy Fit - but I caught her when she was ultra relaxed, before she could turn away in disdain.  


For once Tom is on the other side of the camera.  I've got tons of cute pictures of him - but this one feels like a good portrait of a photographer.


Okay - I've said it before and it wasn't true then, but I'm going to try to be a little more consistent with my blogging.  Next week Blame Sally heads to Germany for a month - plenty of good photo ops there! Check in on me!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What a difference 8 years makes

This morning Tom and I woke up at 6:15 with plans to see the inauguration ceremony at the Parkway Theater in Oakland. We got dressed, brushed our teeth and headed out the door at 6:45 knowing that the doors opened at 7:00 am. Well, by the time we got there (on time) there was a line stretching around the block - and even though we lost the desire to fight for a seat in that big crowd, it was amazingly gratifying to see so many excited humans coming together to celebrate the beginning of a new era. We called our friends BZ and Margaret and headed up to their house to watch the celebration in their living room.

I didn't watch the inauguration of George Bush 4 years ago, but 8 years ago I caught a little bit of it. This morning I was recalling that bleak day on which I gave birth to my song, If You Tell a Lie. My enduring memory of Bush's first inauguration was his closed limo riding down Pennsylvania Avenue surrounded by security vehicles on a bleak and rainy day. I'm sure there was more to it than that, but that's what stays, and the horrible feeling that our democracy had just been hijacked by a bunch of liars.



Today, as we sat together with our friends and their two small children, we felt pride, joy, hope and trepidation, (will this man be able to fulfill the promise of a different future)? And we felt connected to the country in a way that I'm not sure I've ever felt before. Incredible to know that over 80% of the people believe that the right man is leading us, that we may actually be entering an age that is not defined but fear, greed and callousness.

I heard that a few people booed as the soon to be ex-president Bush made his last presidential entrance, and one of the CNN commentators remarked that it was in bad taste. I must say I'm probably a little more in the camp of the shoe throwers - I mean, what's a little bad taste compared to the millions of lives that have been destroyed because of the actions of Bush and Company?

Now I'm watching TV again, back at home - Barack and Michelle were just walking down the avenue - crowds of people waving and cheering and I'm smiling. What a difference 8 years makes.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sunshine and Heated Conversation

Yesterday I had a great time sunning, noshing and chatting at Lake Temescal with three of my favorite people - singer/songwriters Sonya Hunter, Jane Selkye and Emily Bezar. I'd never been to Lake Temescal - it's so sweet and the weather was perfect. We brought fruit and cheese form the Farmer's market and drank these stevia sweetened colas that Jane found.




The conversation was spirited and nonstop, and of course we started talking music business after a while. Emily told us about a songwriter on Myspace who got a lot of shit for writing about the rights of songwriters and the issues of free downloading and file sharing. Now, I know great people on both sides of this issue, and sometimes I feel completely unsophisticated and unschooled about it, but I decided to check out her controversial post. The point in question - should people have to pay for music on the web. One of the arguments in response to her post is that CDs cost too much. Here's what was said:


"BUT knowing full well what a CD cost to make, burn & print AND how much *actually* goes to the artist and not some execs already fat enough wallet, I refuse point blank to pay £16-22 ...If we were more convinced that our money was going to the artist or the developer and they didnt charge quite so much for the finished product then yeah, maybe more people would buy albums & games..."


Here's my response:


In response to the "response" - when people talk about how much it costs to produce a CD, I think they're mostly just talking about manufacturing costs, which admittedly are fairly low. What's usually not factored in are the often hundreds of hours of work put in by the artist/s, the cost of recording studios, mixing engineers, producers, side musicians, photo shoots, design costs,mastering, legal fees, etc.

While I'm still not sure what I think the answer is - I mean, the truth is, you can't stop progress - I think it's important to note that it was also "progress" about a hundred years ago when performing rights organizations were formed to protect the rights of composers and musicians whose works were being exploited by that new medium, radio, with no compensation coming back to them.

The first performing rights society was established in France in 1851. In the United Kingdom, the Copyright Act 1842 was the first to protect musical compositions with the Performing Right Society, founded in 1914 encompassing live performances. The rights for recorded or broadcast performance are administered by the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society, founded in 1924. Italy introduced a performing rights society in 1882 and Germany in 1915. In the United States, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) was founded in 1914; SESAC in 1930 and Broadcast Music, Inc (BMI) in 1944.

Simply throwing up our hands and saying 'too bad' to musicians without looking at new ways to help compensate them seems draconian, not progressive.


The truth is that as it stands there is a vicious cycle forming right now that will defeat a lot of great artists while supporting mediocrity. If you already have the money to tour, you may do okay. But you won't be earning the money that might support your live music career off of CD sales anymore. Also - and this is a point that will not matter to a large part of the population - there is going to be decline in the quality of works being produced (there already is). If you have no hope of being paid back for the investment, that's a mighty disincentive. Go back and read the musician,producer and studio credits of some of the great albums of the sixties and seventies and then weep - (can you imagine trying to afford the London Philharmonic if you're NOT going to be selling the CDs?) .


Jane Selkye's "i Gorgona"


Personally, I'm no fan of the major record companies, their way of doing business and their bloated spending habits. But the truth is, they'll probably figure out a way around this or go into a different business altogether (maybe they'll figure out a way to make us spend more money than we already do for a latte). But I worry about us regular struggling artists who are trying our best to eke out a living. It's unrealistic to imagine that we will be able to keep dedicating ourselves to music while making no money at it. It'll become more and more a side hobby, something done on the cheap and while a lot of "stuff" will continue to be produced, I think there will be an aggregate loss of quality and we will see the demise of great studio musicians and producers.


Sonya Hunter's "Finders Keepers"

I also worry about the proprietary attitude people seem to have around music - if they want it, they feel they should get it for nothing. How strange - I mean, that you should have the right to steal and listen to a song that somebody created off the sweat of their backs. Unlike many other items that you would cheerfully put down a few bucks to buy and consume, this little song will last you for years. This little creation - why is it so hard to pay a very small fee for the privilege? Especially since by doing that you help to support more creations by this artist. Why is it okay to take that creation, but not the jewelry somebody made, or the pastry somebody baked. I know that my attitude isn't modern, but please, could somebody once REALLY explain why this is progress? I do want to understand.

Monica Pasqual's "Sweet Remains"

Now, finally, back to that "cost" thing - the idea that CDs cost too much. Let me throw one more wrench at this - how many things out there do we apply value to strictly by how much they cost to produce? Not that many. Value is defined by a lot of different things - and if you think about how much a great song or a great album brings to your life, a buck or two per song might look pretty reasonable.

Emily Bezar's "Angels 'Abacus"

Now, look at it from the other side, what if you decide that since you CAN get away with downloading or copying songs for free you do it. Take that decision down the road a ways - some artists (particularly those who are able to tour and play live a lot, as well as artists who are able to produce very cheaply because of the nature of their music or artists who are wealthy enough not to depend on those buys) will do okay, some will even thrive. But there will be a lot of artists who don't survive this model. And there will be a lot of music that won't survive this model (like jazz, classical - anything that requires a great studio and a budget to put several top quality musicians in the room at the same time). Before you look at this and say - I don't care about that kind of music - you may want to look at it as something similar to species loss. It may not seem important to you, but down the line it's going to have a very nasty effect.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Producers, Studios and Jimmy Carter

For the first time in the eight years we've been together, Blame Sally is considering working in an outside studio with an outside producer. It'll be interesting to see how this works for us. We've become so opinionated and confident in the studio and I must admit, there's something very cool about doing exactly what we want while feeling comfortable with the process and the tools at hand.

But on the other hand - we don't have the distance or the objectivity sometimes, and we certainly have been working under semi-primitive conditions. I'm particularly excited to have the chance to record on a beautiful acoustic piano - it's been so many years since I've recorded that way.

Names and locations are still under wraps - but I'll keep you posted as soon as i's are dotted and t's are crossed.

Lyric of the Day




a song I wrote after watching Jonathan Demme's documentary on Jimmy Carter. It made me think a lot about the nature of love and commitment - which seems to be such a big part of his life, both in his relationship to Rosalyn and outside of that - his sense of his role in the world, and his obligation to speak truth to whomever and whatever, and his ability to never give up.


Wood, a Hammer and a Nail

Wood, a hammer and a nail and a fare-thee-well

Truth, sharper than a knife in the face of lies

Sweet as rain on a summer night
Sweet as rain on a summer night

Love, a rose that’s made of steel
...and you keep it real

Time, it hasn’t changed a thing because the bells still ring

Sweet as rain on a summer night
Sweet as rain on a summer night

Give, until you give away, the price you’ll pay

Truth, stronger than the blight where you shine your light

Sweet as rain on a summer night
Sweet as rain on a summer night
Sweet as rain on a summer night



Thursday, August 14, 2008

Inspiration

I find that as I get older it's a lot harder to get myself out the door at night and a lot easier to choose the internet or a Netflix movie as my evening's entertainment. Like most bad habits, it feels good in the moment and sort of empty and pointless at the end of it. When I actually make the effort to go out of the house and experience something that my amazing city has to offer, I rarely regret it. Maybe since I don't do it that often I tend to be a bit picky about it.

Take last night, for instance. While SURFING THE NET a couple of nights ago I saw that an artist I'm quite fond of was playing at the new Yoshi's in San Francisco. I impulsively pulled out my credit card and got two tickets for the next night.

Juana Molina's music was introduced to me by my friend Sonya Hunter, the songwriter. Molina's albums are a strange blend of folk, indie and electronica. Very mysterious and at times slightly uncomfortable – her vocals are childlike and right on the edges of in-tune. Somehow when mixed with her guitar, her synths and the odd polyrhythms she creates it lands between playful and creepy. I love it.


But back to the evening. Tom and I finished our NETFLIX MOVIE (the sad truth), then headed over to Yoshi’s on Fillmore Street. First let me say that the new Yoshi’s has got to be among the very top venues in the city. It seats about 500 people, but feels small and intimate, all the seats are great. You sit at small 4-top tables that are arranged in a semi-circle around the stage with about 4 or 5 tiers. The lighting is beautiful, the d├ęcor modern and sleek. They serve sushi appetizers in the concert hall, but there’s also a separate restaurant if you want to make a whole evening of it.

At about 8:15 Juana Molina came onstage with very little fanfare. I loved her dress – which was navy blue tailored top and skirt that looked sort of like a high-fashion school uniform. She looked super young, but I looked her up last night online and found out she’s about 40.

She plays acoustic guitar but also has a synth and a mixer with her on stage, as well as loop contraptions. I’m not at all familiar with live looping techniques, but she is obviously a master. I can tell you what it’s like musically, though. It starts out simply – one line, because, of course, she’s up there solo and playing everything herself. So she usually starts out with a simple guitar riff or a keyboard line (when she plays the keyboard, she almost always uses very electronic sounds and simple lines) and she sings. Throughout the songs she builds the parts, using the loop recorders to add part after part. Some people might think that this is cheating, or that it isn’t “live”, but it absolutely is. She plays every part and records it in the moment, adding layers of vocals, guitar, synth and percussion. It is absolutely transporting.

This is Juana's basic set-up, but this picture is not from Yoshi's show last night.

Tom and I both loved it even more when we closed our eyes, because then you stopped thinking about how she was doing it and then just got swept into the music and the moment, and it was at times glorious.

If I have any complaints at all about Molina, I think it would be that as a performance style it seems less fascinating to watch than if she were working with other musicians or even if she was able to let go a little more in her body. The nature of what she’s doing requires so much focus on the various recording and looping instruments that she rarely seems carried away by the music (even though, as I said, the music was completely transporting). But it might also just be her style. Her humor and persona seem very dry and detached, but compelling. It turns out she used to be a famous comedic television actress in Argentina. At first I thought she was she and quiet, but in very little time it was obvious that she is very funny and very comfortable.

The evening was pretty short. We were home by about 10 PM. And I felt all the energy and joy and excitement pushing me towards creativity that is the inevitable result of hearing great live music.

So, why do I resist?



Monica Song Lyric:

PAJARO SIN ALAS

I’m a bird that doesn’t fly
When I go, is it earth or is it sky?
(Pajaro sin alas, pez que no nada)
I’m a fish that doesn’t swim
When I sink, am I out or am I in?


I’m a rose without a garden
I’m a brush without an artist
Almost done before I started
Almost done before I started

I’m a bird that doesn’t fly
When I go, is it earth or is it sky?
(Pajaro sin alas, pez que no nada)
I’m a fish that doesn’t swim
When I sink, am I out or am I in?


I’m afraid I haven’t tried it
I’m the maid, I’m not the bride
I Always tried to justify it
Always tried to justify it

I’m a bird that doesn’t fly
When I go, is it earth or is it sky?
(Pajaro sin alas, pez que no nada)
I’m a fish that doesn’t swim
When I sink, am I out or am I in?


I’m a king without a nation
I’m a house with no foundation
I’m a flashy imitation
I’m a flashy imitation

I’m a bird that doesn’t fly
When I go, is it earth or is it sky?
(Pajaro sin alas, pez que no nada)
I’m a fish that doesn’t swim
When I sink, am I out or am I in?

I’m a song without a player
I’m a card without a wager
I’m a minor not a major
I’m a minor not a major

I’m a bird that doesn’t fly
When I go, is it earth or is it sky?
(Pajaro sin alas, pez que no nada)
I’m a fish that doesn’t swim
When I sink, am I out or am I in?


I’m a rose without a garden
I’m a brush without an artist
Almost done before I started
Almost done before I started

Thursday, August 7, 2008

It's only been a year, but what a year!
















Oh, Dear Readers,


Yes I've been one of those - a starter and a quitter in the world of bloggers - a setter-upper and a letter-downer, a hare not a tortoise. So today, I make no great promises of fealty or dedication - I know I need to prove myself in deeds, not words - except those so-called deeds involve words, how confusing.

Maybe this time it will take as I'm finally getting the hang of why a social networking site like Facebook can be fun, and how gratifying it can be to share my works-in-progress online. In this busy, busy world of bits and bites and waves of information this might be the only way to reach many of you and I might say things a little differently than I would in person or from the stage.












It also serves something in me that craves immediate gratification and response. In the last few years I've written a lot of songs that I haven't had time to perform, Blame Sally being so busy and all. (Though it seems like soon we're going to be dedicating ourselves full-time to the band, which means at last we will be able to spend as much time learning material as we do performing it! - Look forward to a Blame Sally blog coming in the VERY near future)



In the meantime, though, and back to my point, when I write songs and don't perform them, I tend to forget about them, turning them into little orphans that hardly seem to exist in my consciousness. Thank God Tom is a faithful archivist and records and saves my songs as they go down. I've recently unearthed some pretty good ones and have consequently been inpired to write more. I've been recording a solo album with BZ Lewis and Margrit Eichler (True Margrit) and plan on having some cool guest musicians in on the project. We played at the Cafe du Nord last week (See pix by Tom, of course of me, Chris Kee, Jane Selky, BZ Lewis and Pam Delgado), opening for Emily Bezar, an amazing cross between Kate Bush and Sun Ra. Wow. (that's Emily with the flowing wild hair playing piano)



Tomorrow - off with Blame Sally to the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. It's legendary - should be a fun gig. It's a lot of travel for one day and one show, but I have a feeling it will be worth it. Blame Sally will be recording our next album this fall - this time with a producer and in a state-of-the-art studio. Should be an amazing experience.

Here's a song I wrote on Sunday about Tom. I've started recording it with Margrit. You can hear a demo version of it on my Facebook page.


“I Knew You When”

I knew you when every day was adventure
Every night was a challenge that you met
I knew you when they called you Mercutio
There was nothing you didn’t know, if I asked

And you could run, you could run, you could run
With your face to the sun, with your face to the sun
You could run, you could run, you could run
With your face to the sun, with your face to the sun

I knew you when your feet on the pedals
Your arms brown and freckled, you would laugh
I knew you when you were too fast to follow
From behind I would call you, “Come back, Come back”!

And you could fly, you could fly, you could fly
As you aimed for the sky, you aimed for the sky
You could fly, you could fly, you could fly
As you aimed for the sky, you aimed for the sky

I knew you when we believed we were magic
Immune to the tragic and we loved
I knew you when our lives were like flowers
Open and powerful and young
Our lives were like flowers
Open and powerful and young

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Flying 4th of July




I spent yesterday in the East Bay with some wonderful old friends and a few new ones, too. Judy and Ben invited me to come hang out with their family and friends in their garden in North Berkeley, near my old neighborhood. I brought Ramona with me and Judy asked if we could pick up a colleague of hers who is visiting from Uganda, doing research in the field of Toxicology at UCSF. His name is Anuka. Normally I have a hard time with names, but for obvious reasons this one is easy for me. There was also Ben and Judy's niece at the barbecue whose name is Veronica.

We treated Anuka, who has been in the US for only about 5 days, to many typical 4th of July traditions - mojitos, margaritas accidentally made with rum, fajitas, spicy fruit salad, fireworks, and the strangest tradition of all, flying in a hammock that hangs in Ben and Judy's living room, constructed by an occupational therapist in order to help their son Sam increase sensory perception, or something like that. (Ben, you're welcome to respond here and explain).
I wonder if we woke the kids up with our joyful screams. I wonder what they thought was going on in the living room -- it does look a bit kinky.

This was a glorious way to end the evening, though none of us felt tired once we had our turn. It definitely made driving back over the bridge at midnight a lot easier.

















New Song: (written and appropriately titled prior to the above illustrated experience)


"Terrified"

Hollow like a bone on a desert floor
Heavy like a stone I can’t carry no more
I can’t carry no more, I can’t carry no more

Caught like a horse on a carousel
Lost like a penny down a wishing well
I think I’ve been here before
Looks like I’ve been here before

And when I look inside
I look terrified
I look terrified

Mournful as a wind on western plain
That’s how I feel when I hear my name
When I hear my name

Sometimes I dream of a different world
Where I emerge like a water pearl
And I am me again, and I am me again

But when I look inside
I look terrified
I look terrified

I have reached and I have fallen down
Everything I know just keeps on turning round and round
And everywhere I go it seems like I’m just losing ground
I have reached and I have fallen down