06 July 2014
I don't know what to make of you, I don't know how you came to be, I don't know what stars you see in your sky...
I don’t usually quote one of my own songs but in this moment with what’s on my mind my lyrics fit better than anyone else’s. A close second? Dan Wilson’s song “Too Much” from his recent release Love Without Fear (I LOVE this CD, BTW!):
“What you’re really like, I can hardly imagine, but I’ve imagined you so well, way too many times. What sets you alight? What gets your heart racing?....”
You see, I’ve found myself in a most interesting situation this past year. Or rather two situations, actually. Somehow, some way, I find myself caring about two people I’ve never met. Not just caring a little, but a lot; each for different reasons, each of whom I can’t imagine my life without at this point. I don’t understand any of it (although not for lack of trying) and I have no clue as to whether either of them feels the same way. How did this happen? That part I can explain…so here it goes, in order of occurrence….
It was June 2013 and I was working on what would end up being my favourite episode I wrote for “Buying Alaska”. It all started with some innocent, inquiring emails. I was trying to get to know a character in my show so I could write her better. I never intended for us to be friends. I thought there would be a few back and forth emails and life would move on. It didn’t happen that way. Soon the picture that emerged was one of an intelligent, beautiful, funny, and strong, wife, mother, and friend. I felt a kinship to her as we got to know each other. I loved that she loves kale as much as I do, knits (even though I don’t), understands my sense of humour, and loves music and poetry with the same passion that I possess (though, more accurately, she reintroduced me to poetry - something I’d put aside for a couple of years). She is someone with whom I share a belief system of right and wrong and where any situation might fall on that spectrum. She’s opinionated, honest and straightforward. She cares about the people in her world and has a love and respect for life that few I’ve ever ‘met’ seem to have. Then there’s this other thing about her – she reminds me of all the best parts of my mother. In fact, there have been moments where I felt that the words coming out of her mouth could very well have come from Mom. So much so that it’s been eerie at times, yet all the while comforting. My friend has been a presence that is calming, reassuring and downright sweet in nature.
All this, and, as I mentioned above, we have yet to meet. Our relationship, as such, has been mostly pen pal in nature – just like the old covered wagon days of yore when people only communicated in person or via the US Mail. In those days many a life-long friendship stayed alive because of letter writing. Though, yes, there have been countless texts and phone calls, but we’ve never skyped, or face-timed. So, we haven’t even met in the virtual, two-dimensional world. I know her voice, I know her laugh and I can tell you the colour of her eyes. But I don’t know what she looks like when you say something she doesn’t agree with, or finds herself in a moment of being polite when she’d maybe rather rip you a new one for vexing her very soul. I don’t know what she looks like when she’s looking at the moon, or into her children’s eyes. Because of all the footage I had to watch to write her episode I do know what she looks like when she smiles or walks down the road. But I don’t know what it’s like to hug her or touch her arm at a party during a conversation. These are things that friends know about each other, things that endear us to one another. Those little moments of intimacy that come about when you share a drink or a laugh. Sometimes when I don’t know someone well, if they give me a good hug, I’ll want to know them more and as such, they slowly find their way into my heart; we take those natural steps that friends take in order to become friends and we move ever slowly down the road.
All of this and none of it and there she is. I care about her, her family and I want to be there if ever she needs me. I see her as a lifelong presence and a friend I hope to know forever. I can’t seem to help it. I certainly don’t understand how I could care so very much about someone I’ve never met. Although we haven’t been in touch recently I hope she knows that I’ll always care for her and want to be her friend. I also hope she knows, to quote from the very first poem she shared with me, that “I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)…” (e.e. cummings) and I always will.
4 Aug 2013. A call from Worcester, Massachusetts. A voicemail left and the words ‘you’re a match – please call us back…’ It was in that very moment that I began to care. The call came from what was then the Caitlin Raymond Foundation (now part of BeTheMatch.org) telling me they needed me, or rather my bone marrow or stem cells, to help a patient for whom I was a near perfect match (for more on my experience as a donor please see earlier posts). As the calls, and emails, went back and forth I came to find out that the would-be recipient was a fifty-seven year old woman with leukemia who lived somewhere in the world. The rules being what they are all other information remains private and we are both anonymous to one another until such time after the one year donation mark (22 Oct 2014) that we both agree to find out who the other person is. These rules were explained to me very early on in the process but, yet, I started to care about her. A total stranger. One that I knew even less about than my aforementioned friend.
How could this be? How can I know so little yet feel attached? To put it quite simply, as of 22 Oct 2013, as far as I know all we share are stem cells (she has mine, that by now have become hers). I have no idea what she looks like, how she laughs, or the colour of her eyes. I don’t know if we have any shared value system or even if she has kids. I can hope that she has people in her life who love her and care for her and for whom my donation came as a welcome gift of time, life and the chance to say more.
So there I was – out for a run about one week after our 6 month donation mark (which was on 22 April) thinking all was ok in the world. It turns out the doctors, at this stage, perform several tests on the recipient. They want to see how she’s faring with her new ‘stuff’ and how she’s feeling. It makes sense, them following up with her since, technically, she isn’t cancer-free. What didn’t make sense to me was how crushed I felt when the phone rang and my advocate told me that the recipient wasn’t doing well. The tests showed a worrisome t-cell deficiency that, left unattended, would ultimately do her in. They needed me to donate again and was I willing to go through all the tests and the donation process? Hell yeah! No thought needed, no looking back. Just ‘what do we need to do to make this happen and how soon can we do it?’ All the while as I was asking these questions, my heart slowly sank and in those moments I realized just how much I cared about her. This total stranger with whom, as far I know, I only have one thing in common.
I guess until that day I’d been a little cavalier about the whole deal. What’s it to me? I show up, do some tests, take some drugs, and get strapped into a chair for six hours as my blood is pulled from my body and then put back in (minus the stuff they need). In many ways it was no big deal. I was doing my part to buy someone some time – maybe weeks, maybe months, maybe another lifetime (or at least a second act). It was a stranger, no one I’d met, interacted with (knowingly) or even knew about before that day in August. I did my part and everything else was on her. No reason to take any of it personally. But there I was, standing in my driveway in the warm spring sun, processing the information and realizing that I truly gave a damn about her! More than I ever realized or maybe had admitted until that moment. Yes, I knew I cared, but I didn't understand the depth within me that she had reached.
So it was on 19 May 2014 I donated to her my t-cells. No drugs this time but I had to go through the physical and all the necessary blood tests (yes, even a pregnancy test, that despite my protestations they still did; ‘hospital policy’ they said, ‘you’re of child-bearing age and if you don’t agree to it we can’t proceed with the donation’). The difference is, this time I felt more emotionally invested. It matters more to me if she lives. It matters to me that she wasn’t feeling well and needed more from me. Like a friend with the flu that needs the soup you bring over. You want them to feel better and you hate seeing them in pain. I hate knowing that my recipient wasn’t feeling 100% well. I want her to be ok – I want her to live long enough to feel the creaks and rattles in her aging body. To look back on her life and think ‘I done good and I done the best I could. I loved, I lived and I gave a shit about those in my life with all I had.’ I can hope these things for her – because I hope we have more in common than the blood running through our veins. If we don’t – it’s ok. Because I will look back on my life and know that ‘I done good and I done the best I could. I loved, I lived and I gave a shit about those in my life with all I had’ and she was among those I cared for. A stranger who I’d like to think knows that I’ll be there for her if she needs ‘more’ from me and is someone who will always be in my heart.
Yes, I hope I meet these two women I care so deeply for - even though I have no clue as to why. Maybe it’s time I should just stop trying to understand and just accept it for what it is (though clearly it makes more sense with one than the other). I do hope I am lucky enough to look in their eyes and feel the warmth that comes from friends sharing a hug, or a drink, or a laugh. Because, to close out with the last lines of my song from above:
”When we have our face to face, will the miles they be erased? Will we be like two old friends? Will this mystery ever end?...”
Thanks for tuning in…until next time…CHEERS!
Ps. If you’d like to know more about my music please go to www.facebook.com/laraschulermusic
17 March 2014
4 deaths. 6 days. 4 people I love feeling direct pain from their losses. My Dad (and my Aunt) took the brunt of it. Two of the losses were their Aunt and Uncle – the last siblings of my grandfather and the last of that generation to go. The 1st loss, though, belonged to my Dad’s best friend. His daughter passed away unexpectedly from complications of pneumonia – she was only sixty-two. The next day, New Years Day, a dear friend lost her sister. While this was a little more expected – she had been ill for years with Multiple System Atrophy – nonetheless it was a hard loss for my friend and her large family. My great Aunt and Uncle each passed away in the 4 days that followed. All four of these people had children, siblings, and two of them had parents who survived them. What a shitty way for my people to start the New Year.
In the weeks, now two months, since those six days an acquaintance of mine died and another dear friend, the “Thelma” to my “Louise” (check some blog I wrote in early 2009 for that story) lost her Dad as did a friend from elementary school. I have to say, it’s been a rather odd way to start the year. I can’t say I’m directly affected by these losses, though. I barely remember my Great Aunt and Uncle only having met them at some far-away family reunion in Illinois. But my Dad is feeling the burden of now being the oldest generation all the while watching his best friend navigate the waters of loosing another child. My pain rests with the people I love going through all of this – wanting to do more, and be more, to be the shoulder they cry on and to be able to share what wisdom I’ve gained from having experienced numerous losses. All I can do is say “I love you, I’m here if you need me…” as I’ve said to my three friends, and my father (his best friend I’m not in touch with but he has passed on my condolences and love.)
To really cap it all off we almost lost my Dad last month. My family came within hours of dealing with loosing our last parent, brother, uncle, grandfather. Now my Aunt, his sister, is staring down the barrel of cancer yet again. Her prognosis is unknown but the treatment is simple. She will take bone strengthening pills and tamoxifen for six months. We hope this means she can avoid radiation as the tamoxifen will hopefully kill the cancer. This is good news mixed in with the unexpected bad news. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been scared to loose her. She’s been like a mother to me since my Mom died. She didn’t like my mother – that’s ok – the point is she’s been the supportive and loving voice I’ve needed in the years since my mother passed away. She always knows what to say and never judges. She cries when I cry and rejoices in the good news. She’s also really been present for my Dad. They live less than a mile apart and are there for each other. Loosing her would devastate us all on too many levels to count. To say nothing of my cousins loosing their last remaining parent.
Which all leads me to “Hallelujah”. A strange song to pick, no doubt, considering all that I’ve just mentioned. But yet, not really. A song, that at its core, is about broken faith and broken relationships; the ups and downs we all face as we navigate God, Love and Faith. Whilst I don’t believe in either God or Love at the moment - I’m wholly agnostic as I was raised to be so in a family of Catholics (my Great Uncle was even a Monsignor in Chicago) and Russian Orthodox people; and as for the Love part, just like the character in the song, I’ve never been very good at it. I do, however, believe we all need to be good to one another in the most whole and most pure sense and having faith in the unknown – which really means our inner selves - is a good thing to carry with you.
Unlike the character in the song – I’m not tortured, I’m not beleaguered and despite the many existential crisis I’ve experienced in my life, I do maintain a level of optimism and Anne Frankian belief that at the very core of it all we humans are good and well intentioned. If you listen to the song it’s very clearly about sadomasochism – both physical and spiritual and it’s a cry for help. Our main character is torn between love of self, love of God, and love of the other person in the relationship. ‘Hallelujah, Hellelujah’ is sung in relief, distress and in a spare, moment, joy. Depending on where the character is in the song in the midst of their process it can be heaven, or it can be hell. In many ways it’s a common theme. But in no way is this a love song.
For some reason, just like that James Blunt song “You’re Beautiful” about a coked up encounter on a subway with an ex-girlfriend (that clearly didn’t end well), that got played at nearly every wedding known to man for several years, “Hallelujah” has been grossly misinterpreted. It has also, in recent years, become grossly over-used in public forums such as telethons, for relief of all kinds, and as the closing number at many, too many, a star-studded concert.
I guess it’s just more fun NOT to listen to lyrics and just go along with a groove and a peppy chorus irrespective of what the song is REALLY about. Which, as a songwriter, I can tell you morphs throughout the years for me. Meaning I might write a song about one thing – then a couple of years later as I’ve experienced more life the meaning changes or life has imitated art and somehow I find new meaning. But no matter what, the basis for the inspiration for the song never wavers. Whatever it was that fueled my desire to put an experience into words and a melody, will always and forever stay the same. It’s just basic gardening – here is the seed, here is the water, the rest is up to the forces of nature. However, words are up for interpretation and thus the overall meaning of a song can be many things and is ever-evolving. So yes, I get it, these are MY interpretations of these songs. This is not lost on me.
All that being said, “Hallelujah” is one of the most beautiful and haunting tunes ever written. All the more reason to put this out to the universe: PLEASE, for the love of whomever you believe in, STOP COVERING “HALLELUJAH”! Enough is enough, Kate Voegel, Blake, or Gavin DeGraw, Marcy Playground, or even Bob Dylan, Bon Jovi, or Willie Nelson…. oh god, I’m getting ill just thinking about how many people have covered this song – over 300 to date. So please, please, STOP!
Why? Because no one will ever do it better than Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley or kd lang. No one should ever bother to try……
Take the original (above) – sung by the songwriter with all the intention with which it was written. All the nuance of every word Leonard Cohen put to paper is in each breath and each lilting note. He was nearly 50 when he wrote this song. A man who, at that age, had certainly seen his share of relationship ups and downs as well as fatherhood (in fact, his son Adam fronts the awesome band Low Millions). Since he’s the only one who knows what the song is really about he’s the only one who can sing it with the most honesty. This waltz-like gospel tune evokes a southern 80’s bible-belt hot afternoon. You can almost feel the heat and smell the sin. Cohen’s voice is like 50 grit sandpaper on a shiny piece of glass – but yet you can’t stop listening. His emotional tennis game is long into its fifth match and the struggle to finish is even greater than he expected. This is a man who is facing the down side of life whilst still being young enough to cry about it and experience its affects without being cynical. You definitely feel what he’s going through.
Then you have Jeff Buckley, whose version I admit, is the first I’d heard of the song. This was back in 1994 when he recorded it for his first album. He was such a tortured soul facing an unbearable paternal legacy that you can feel the pain in every syllable and note. It’s almost as if it was written for him and him alone to sing. The angst in his 20-something year old delivery is hard to ignore – here is a young man who has lived a difficult and haunted life gifted with the talents of his late father (whom he only met a handful of times about 3 months before he died) but also gifted with the demons that led his father down the road of abandonment and addiction. Yet, at such a young age, he had not experienced relationships the way Cohen had. What Jeff Buckley was battling were internally raging waters (forgive the pun), that were all consuming, weighted and too much for a young man to bear. He was a bright star on the rise blessed with talent and a name and all the expectations that came with it. How do you live up to the worlds idea of a man you barely knew? This can’t have been easy and no doubt added to his heartbreak of never really knowing his father. All of this pain is very clearly heard in his version.
Forgive me – but I happened upon these next words from a blog I wrote in November 2006 where I talk about kd lang’s 49th Parallel CD (which is TOTALLY awesome on so many levels):
“As we meander our way through our trip you can't help but be struck by the oft - covered Leonard Cohen tune "Hallelujah". What makes this version different than the rest is not only the piano work that resonates throughout the whole CD - reminding me of a George Winston work of art - but there's a happiness to this version that's not apparent on either the Jeff Buckley or J.J. Cale versions. What Ms. lang shows us is a less pained side of the tune that gets illuminated by her heavenly voice and a string accompaniment that elevate her ever higher into the Canadian night sky.”
I still feel that way about the song. Her version is angelic, deeply resonating, and by-golly a more positive take on the tune than her predecessors. She comes from a small corner of happiness – without making it into the sappy sick love song others have butchered this tune into being. It’s not a happy song – but I’m not troubled by her approach. I’m moved. Why? Because, lets be honest, this woman may not write songs I particularly like – but she can make a phone book sound sexy, hot and as deep as an Alaskan mountain well. So yeah – I can listen to this version over and over, all the while soaring into the cold Canadian sky…..
So maybe that’s the trick? Two out of these three versions were sung by Canadians. I’m not saying I want to hear Corey Hart, or Bryan Adams take a stab at it, or even Neil Young (though come to think of it…) but maybe there’s something to be said for growing up in the midst of a harsh Canadian winter, surrounded by cold, unfriendly people, who have to struggle to survive. Or maybe, as I suggest, these will forever be the best versions of this song and shame on anyone who thinks they can do better!
If you really need a “Hallelujah” fix other than the aforementioned check out these two songs: “Hallelujah In The City” by the incomparable Joan Osborne and “Hallelujah’’ by one of the best songwriters of our generation, Patty Larkin.
So, “Hallelujah, hallelujah…” to the indomitable spirits of those I love who are handling loss, fighting for life and just doing their best to keep their shit together during these trying times. You all know how I feel about you and I’m here…
Thanks for tuning in….until next time…Cheers!
01 November 2013
The pain left me on Friday. Or rather, the BIG guns of pain packed their bags and quietly walked west towards the setting sun. More pain followed throughout the weekend but it was more like a mosquito buzzing – not the knife wielding ax murderer who had inhabited my body since the previous Friday. I had been on a drug for 5 days and was told it would take an additional two or three days for it to work it’s way out of my system. So if you’re keeping track it was eight days of serious, at moments debilitating, pain. I wasn’t prepared for the immediacy of it all, either. I was told I would get my first round of puppy like shots but wouldn’t feel anything until the end of the weekend. They were wrong. As I sat at the dinner table at a hotel in Andover, Massachusetts I could feel my thighs beginning to scream. I thought at first I was sore from my previous days bike ride of ten (hilly) miles. I would have biked longer but I almost got hit by a car and having someone’s life in your hands make one think – clearly not enough to keep me off my bike but at least I didn’t push it – or at least I read the sign that said ‘go home now before two lives are lost’. My body was beginning its hyperactive production of white blood cells that would save the life of a fifty-seven year old woman somewhere in the world.
In order to get my body to produce lots of white blood cells I was being injected with Neupogen. It stimulates your bone marrow and out kicks the white blood cells that would get transplanted into the recipient. I don’t know why it hurts so much or for so long but it didn’t matter. My objective as a bone marrow/stem cell donor was to save a life and any amount of pain I was temporarily experiencing was minor compared to what ‘she’ was going through as a leukemia patient. In fact, the nurses told me that what I was feeling was akin to what she was feeling for months or years. The body is being ‘attacked’ or so it felt. It was like knives popping out of my bones – sometimes it was like firecrackers going off. The pain moved about and I never knew where or when it would show its face. The day of my second injection I was at a Bat Mitzvah reception and tried to dance. No go! My femur yelled at me, then gave way, and I beat a quick path to my chair. Day 2. OK. This is how it goes? I can handle it.
Day three brought on more Neupogen. The foundation, bethematch.org, sent a visiting nurse to my ‘sisters’ house in Massachusetts to give me my third injection. You see, it has to be on a twenty-four schedule so your body never has time to get rid of it and also so it builds up and keeps stimulating the bone marrow. This is crucial – they were going to need a lot from me.
All told it was five days (including my donation day) of that drug. Each day the pain was ever-increasing as my body prepared (not that it knew what we were up to and were about to steal from it) for the donation. It was so weird this feeling. It was, on many levels, fascinating to me. I’ve always been a healthy person. I'm active/athletic and save for my love of goldfish (or any cheesy salty snack) I eat healthy and organic food as much as possible. I’ve also got some good genetics on my side so feeling like I did was an odd study on my physiologic state. All this being said I would, without a thought, do it again.
Many have asked why do it the first time? Well, first of all, it’s the right thing to do. If you can, why not? As my Dad says it’s the same innate nature in me that makes me stop at an accident (like my previous post describes) when others would keep going. Also, I’ve been an organ donor since I was sixteen. I still carry in my wallet my mother’s permission slip that she had to sign that showed her approval of my choice as a minor. Bone marrow donation is, in many ways, a natural extension of the choice I had made when I was a teenager. The other, bigger reason as it were, is that my grandfather died of leukemia. My Mother was not a match, nor was my uncle (something I know my mother felt remorse over). Back then, the test for a match was invasive. This was at Sloan Kettering, so if anyone would have had a better way it would have been them. My grandfather’s doctor (coincidentally an aunt of my then relationship) advised that my sister and me would likely not be matches so my mother wouldn’t allow us to get tested. She didn’t want us experiencing unnecessary pain for what would most likely be a waste of time. She also didn’t want us to feel like failures. It’s easy to take it personally when it’s a family member (and substitute father) you’re wanting to save.
Three years ago me and one of my favourite people were walking through the Arsenal Mall in Brookline, Massachusetts and there it was – a kiosk set up to sign people up to be bone marrow donors. It was so easy. The Caitlin Raymond Foundation was trying to find a match for a Yale hockey player of Slavic decent. We’d often talked about being bone marrow donors but the caveat being for a fellow Slav made it even more appealing for me. Unfortunately, neither of us were a match, and they never found one, so she died about a year later. But, thankfully, once you sign up you’re in the database and so there’s always a chance you could get the call.
I did. This past July. Since I apply to jobs all over the country when I saw a call coming in from Massachusetts I thought it was about work. But I was at work so I let it go to voicemail. When I checked I was very happy to hear that I was a potential match for someone. When I called back he told me what was going on and asked if I still willing to be a donor. Of course it was a no brainer YES for me. But, it seems many people sign up and have the best of intentions (and probably feel good about themselves for doing it) but when the call comes they back out (many people also back out weeks/days before the donation so the best time to do it if you’re not up for it is when that first call comes in – that way no one gets their hopes up, wastes time, or money). I understand because the more I learned about the days ahead of me the more I realized it wasn’t as easy as 1-2-3. There’s a process and there are steps to be taken.
In a nutshell here it is: the first is a blood test. I drove to the nearest place where the foundation had a contract and gave about 5 vials of my blood. These got tested to determine how close a match I was and to also to test if I was disease-free. About six weeks later (there’s no typical timeframe – it all happens based on the recipients health and what their doctors course of action is), having passed that test I was notified that they wanted my stuff and there was a timeframe in which it all had to happen. Suddenly the clock began to tick and everything sped up. Next followed an in-depth (and sometimes uncomfortable) physical to determine if I was healthy enough (as a horse, thank you very much) to be a donor. Meaning my body needed to be able to withstand the drug and the actual donation. Then more blood withdrawal. All total there were no fewer than fifteen vials taken from me. I’m sure there would have been more but I insisted I was NOT pregnant (nor could have been) and put my foot down. All total it was about three months of testing and hoping for the best (because you never know).
About a week before my donation/extraction day the recipient went into isolation. They zapped her and killed all of her stem cells or anything else that had been the cause of her leukemia. Whilst I’d been given the option of saying ‘no’ at any time (not that I would have) starting that Monday there was no turning back. If I backed out, or got hurt, or died, she would have died. I won’t lie. I felt it. I felt the weight of having her life in my hands, of knowing that at least for ten days we were undeniably linked. Me and a stranger with whom I may have nothing in common were about to have A LOT in common. Admittedly I felt strange knowing that if I made one wrong step, or got sick, or hurt it all would have been over for her. It was a huge responsibility. Meanwhile I was relishing it. I don’t have kids and am not tied to anyone or anything but for ten days I was. It felt good to be needed and feel that I mattered. So in many ways it was a great! It stretched me. It wasn’t babysitting, it was real life and it was cool! Despite the mixed bag of emotions - I wouldn’t have had it any other way!
So, four days of drugs and there I was sitting in a chair (more than like a dentists chair) in Providence, Rhode Island getting my last dose and getting hooked up to a huge ass needle and having my arm tied down. That line would pull my blood out of one arm, where it would be circulated through a machine that would pull out my stem cells and white blood cells, of which I had plenty at this point, and then another went into my dominant hand (so I could use it to eat, play on the computer and, yes, text gross pictures to the ones I loved) where most of my blood would return. Six hours later after being tied down and unable to get up I was done and making my way towards the bathroom, the coffee machine and cookies in the lounge. Mission complete! Life saved? On its way….my part was done and there was no turning back!
All told it was about ten days from first shot to feeling normal again. After I got home my ass barely left the couch for three days. It takes a lot out of your body to be making more stuff than usual and to have your blood pulled out of you and returned. I wasn’t expecting to feel so tired for so long or feel the pain that I did. But every moment was worth it and I would do it again. Everything I did was towards a great purpose and was intended to (hopefully) save a life.
The odd thing is I think we all go about our days wondering if we make a difference in anyone’s life. That’s why movies like “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Wings Of Desire” (one of my all time favourite films) or “Scrooge” are so relevant to our human experience. It’s so easy to think we don’t matter. It’s so easy to believe that no one gives a shit (especially when you may not have that daily reassurance of being in a relationship) and to keep the time to our own beat whether loudly or quietly on the sidelines.
Maybe I’m too much of an existentialist but I often wonder if my presence matters. Would anyone miss me if I left my Tony little town in New England? I love it here but I’m not close to anyone other than my family down the road. Maybe I wasn’t built to put down roots, maybe all that moving around as a small kid (and subsequently nine states that I’ve called home in my lifetime) have made me want to keep one foot out the door.
When I went back to LA in April for work I was astonished at how few ‘friends’ made time to see me. I had reached out on facebook but in two weeks I was there I only saw my friends that I was staying with (which was a blast). So clearly my presence was not missed. Because, as a wise and favourite soul taught me, when someone says ‘I’m too busy’ what they really mean is ‘you aren’t important enough to me to make time for.’ It’s an easy out and one that is too often used. If we want something we get it or we do it – if we want to see someone we make time. It’s that simple. We do what we want. So you can see how it might be easy to think we don’t matter.
But then I walk around and see the world and I see me in it. While I was in Andover there was a bartender who, when I asked for chocolate milk (something not on the menu) and I explained why (I needed the calcium for my overactive bones) he left his post, went to the kitchen and made it for me. Then the next morning at breakfast, when I asked again he replied ‘I almost brought it out for you but I didn’t want to force it on you.’ Later (after I had finished the glass he brought me), I went out to the lobby and there was a half-gallon of milk and chocolate sauce sitting on ice next to the coffee station. It’s such a little thing, but in those hours of feeling my bones bursting at the seams, taking a step and feeling a leg give out under me, or being mid-sentence in a conversation and feeling my sternum burst, his support and encouragement and chocolate milk made a HUGE difference in how I felt. His hugs made an impact too. Again, a little thing, but he touched my life and made a difference. He and I are in touch (he emailed me a few days later to see how things went and to ask how I was feeling) but I haven’t told him how he affected my life in a positive way. Maybe I will.
These moments happen every day if we pay attention. But for some reason it’s hard, at least for me, to put the shoe on the other foot. It’s hard for me to see that the smile I leave behind could make someone feel better. Or the hug I gave a friend who unknowingly needed it was the hug they wanted from ANYONE all day. Because lets face it, in the world of ‘social’ (or rather anti-social, sit on your couch and post from miles away and make people believe you’re having an awesome life, or bitch about work when others don't have any etc.) media means that we are making less and less human, skin-to-skin contact as technology advances. Smiles and hugs are needed. Human contact is a part of staying alive and emotionally ‘together’. So it makes sense that these smaller moments of face-to-face interaction become bigger and more important. In many ways, we need them more now than ever as we become disconnected from our surroundings and the people in them and more connected to the device in our hands.
I grew up wanting to be a doctor. That changed when I failed high school chemistry (even though I aced anatomy and physiology I didn’t, at the time, think it was enough). I always wanted to make a difference. When I started writing songs in college I did so because it was a natural progression from writing poetry (which I’d started around age eight) and playing guitar (I was twelve when I taught myself). I hoped and still hope that any song I write might make someone think, smile, or feel. I even hope they will identify and feel like someone ‘gets’ it. But it’s so intangible. Art is subjective. Some people love my music, others don’t and that’s ok. Some people have cried when I’ve sung for them. But again – it’s fleeting and unpredictable. I have a friend who never listens to lyrics so it has become my life’s mission to change her mind. She likes my music, or so she says, and since my music is more about the lyrics than the melody, I just might be making headway – I might be making a difference in how she hears music going forward. Might.
All this adds up to one thing. No matter what I do in my life from here on in, no matter how many TV shows I write, or blogs, or songs, I did something that I can concretely say made a difference. As one of my favourite people (and co-conspirator in signing up to be a bone marrow donor) said ‘its not just about the recipient, it’s about her family and friends.’ This one action affects so many people. No matter what, no matter if she survives (though the odds are good) I bought her more time. She will spend 100 days in isolation in a hospital room as my stem cells become hers. After that, she will go home and hopefully begin putting her life back to normal. No one, not even me in my darkest moments of self-doubt, can take away from the fact that one small gesture made a big difference in the lives of one person and her people. This may be the only thing in my life where there will be ‘proof’ but that’s ok – it feels awesome and I would do it again. Not because I need the ego stroke, but because it’s the right thing to do. If you can, then do it!
While I’ve met several people who are signed up, I've yet to meet another donor because being a match is so rare. That being said, donors are in short supply which means so are matches – I urge you to go to www.bethematch.org so you too can make a difference and possibly save a life….
Thanks for tuning in…until next time…CHEERS!
19 September 2013
Calling All Angels, walk me through this one, don’t leave me alone, calling all angels, calling all angels, we’re hoping, but we’re not sure how….
The signs were there….they’re always there if you’re looking…or more specifically, looking back. It’s always the way it goes – rarely are we IN a moment and thinking ‘this is a sign’ – rarely do we think anything more of a chance meeting or conversation than ‘gee this is nice – I’ve enjoyed this…’ So yes, looking back on that Friday night in June 2013 – I can say I ‘saw’ the sign. But in all reality it was just another party night at my friend Wendy’s house. She’s a local business owner and thus her circle of friends is small and large at the same time. She invited me over to a party – a precursor to 80’s dance night at the local favourite haunt. Basically a bunch of us sit and stand around and drink and chat before we go sweat our asses off dancing to 80’s music – some of it questionable (big hair bands) – some of it I love (The Cure, New Order, Yaz…) some of it is just to stand around running into people I only see at this joint and have no real connection to other than the fact that I (used) to live there. Small talk and chit chat – some of my least favourite things.
Back to Wendy’s…so at this stage of the game I’ve moved out of this town and moved closer to New York City so I have to drive a few extra miles after work (and drink less once I get there since I can no longer walk home) in order to start my evening. I arrive close to 9p after a hectic drive. Fridays are always the hardest in the warmer months – everyone leaves to get out of the city – so I grab for the nearest alcoholic beverage and start my weekend. My weekends are much needed at this point. You see, by day I’m a television writer and producer. I work long hours and sometimes have long commutes. This weekend was well earned because I had delivered a rough cut of my episode for “Buying The Bayou”. It had been a bit of a challenge making all the pieces fit (a challenge I always love, by the way) so I was ready for talk that had nothing to do with time codes, shot selections or music timing. Standing in the kitchen, sucking down my first cider of the night, I was introduced to Wendy’s old band mate who now lives in Canada. She left the states about 10 or so years ago to be with her then girlfriend (some chick whose name escapes me).
Being musicians we start chatting about instruments, music and, of course, musicians we love. Three plus months later I can’t remember how it came up – maybe we were talking about Canadian musicians – but she mentions that her now ex used to work for Jane Siberry. Actually, I think we were chatting more about the ex. I was somehow dragged into a long laborious ‘talk’ or rambling on about the ex and the break-up and all the stuff people tell to strangers even though as strangers we really don’t care so much. But I patiently allowed her to talk AT me for, what seemed like hours, and indeed turned into hours much to my polite chagrin. Once Jane Siberry’s name came up (and the bragging that went along with the disclosure of her ex that went along with it – which, I’ll say frankly, I thought this chick was a little too impressed with her ex and herself – maybe I’m cynical or jaded having met much bigger stars than Siberry – but either way she was annoyingly proud) thankfully the conversation switched to music and our mutual love of the song “Calling All Angels”. Of course this chick had on her computer some concert footage not found on the internet – so I got to watch some stuff I’d never seen before. That was cool! I have to say for all this bitching about this chick that Jane Siberry is ridiculously talented! I’ve always appreciated her music and because of the soundtrack to the film “Until The End Of The World” by one of my favourite directors, Wim Wenders, I had found this song when the film was released in the movie theatres. It may have even been the first time I’d heard of her. (That's what’s so great about soundtracks – it’s how I first heard of Dido on “Sliding Doors” several months before her first CD was released here in the states.)
The night went on…as soon as we got to the bar I ditched the annoying chick. After twelve years in LA my patience for people who talk AT me and don’t engage in two-way conversation is non-existent and basically I just write people off at this point. Sometimes I wonder if I attract these people (I used to think it was just LA but I'm finding it happens here in New England albeit with much less frequency) or if it’s how society is moving in the face of one sided social networking spewing and texting (of which I am guilty and not a day goes by where I am not engaging in thumb sprints on my ‘smart’ phone). I went about my evening – danced and chatted with the locals and had a good time as I always do on those nights. But something stuck with me. Through the haze of Adam and The Ants, Duran Duran, Bonnie Tyler, and Kate Bush and the occasional Bon Jovi tune “Calling All Angels” stuck with me. You could say it haunted me – all weekend, in fact…
I got home – to my new home – slept in and painted and unpacked. All the while I had a feeling that something was amiss in the air. I couldn’t place my finger on it – but something was ‘up’. This was a big step – I’d left a horrible and mean situation and was feeling good about this new chapter and getting a fresh start. I was settling into my work – the flow of a new show – new people – new commute and enjoying this, my fourth living room, since leaving LA. I thought everything was cool…and it was except for this nagging feeling.
Monday comes and I get up, start my day and vow to leave exactly ON TIME to be at work AT 10a – not 10:05 as had been my pattern of late. I think I forgot – nothing. My desire to leave right at 9a (it’s a 58 minute commute) clearly was not strong enough to make it a reality – I think I left around 9:05…I don’t remember because there was nothing spectacular about that morning or my leaving. It was a sunny day – really warm – pushing 80 degrees already and that was about it, just another mid-summer morning in New England. On the way in to work I take a small road – two lanes – country and trees and small deli’s and gas stations spatter the landscape before hitting the reservoir that tells me I’m near the highway. It’s fifteen miles of me going only as fast as the driver in front of me and never as fast as my car wants to go. I’d gotten a new CD a week or two earlier – Richard Shindell – someone I’d been introduced to years before. I had picked up a live CD by him, Courier (released in 2002, coincidentally the year I met one of my favourite people and the person who introduced me to him), and was listening to it non stop on my drives to and from work. I was a little obsessed you could say. I left the CD in and let it play end to end and backwards again….I was particularly newly in love with “A Summer Wind, A Cotton Dress” (I had heard it several times before and at one of his live shows - but somehow it was really speaking to me in those weeks) so I was hard pressed to take the CD out and listen to anything else – not even the radio.
I got on the highway – a winding road that has a tendency to flood in bad weather – it’s a road I’d been driving Monday to Friday since 22 April when my work on “Buying Alaska” began (the same production company produces both shows so whilst I was hired to work on ‘Alaska’ I’d been moved to ‘Bayou’ after my first episode of ‘Alaska’). Within a few miles of going about seventy miles per hour in not-quite-rush hour traffic - it happens. Out of nowhere I see a guardrail flying through the air – I quickly do some math on trajectory, speed and how to avoid it going through my windshield. I steer away from where I believe it to be heading all the while trying to avoid hitting the car right in front of me as she (I would later find out) does the same. Meanwhile a blue car is crossing from my left lane and headed off the highway and towards the trees that separate the highway from the neighbourhood that runs parallel to us. Steering through the debris and into the right lane I look to my left and see a white SUV stopped dead in the road and totaled. I safely slow down, stop and look in my side view mirror – luckily – and jump out and head towards the nearest car – the blue Jetta that now sits in the grass. He’s bleeding and disoriented so I help him out of the car, set him down a safe distance from it (at this point all traffic and stopped behind the white SUV) and run back to my car for water and my first aid kit. The woman in the car in front of me had also pulled over so there are two of us helping so I run over to the white SUV and get them out of the car. They appear to be fine so I go back and focus on the guy in the Jetta. In the meantime some tool from the neighbourhood decides to come check things out – I ask him if he’s here to help – he said ‘no I just want to see what’s going on’ so I tell him to get the fuck out of here – he’s scared of me - so he leaves – all the while I see people with their phones taking photos of all of us – it’s so bizarre that no one else tried to help. Go figure!
It seems like forever – but it wasn’t – within ten minutes emergency vehicles and fire trucks from the nearest town start to show up…and take over. I can’t quite breathe at this point even though I know everyone was in good hands….it’s the rush of adrenaline…the blue sky and the heat of the highway baking my legs. I’m thirsty – but I’m more worried about the guy from the Jetta. He’s disoriented and when they get him on the stretcher he starts breathing really fast and heavy. He’s panicking and going into shock. None of the EMT’s seem to notice (I think they were a little busy) so I lean in and try and calm him down. Finally they cart him off.
Then me and the other lady who stopped are just waiting to be questioned. The police get to us and then tell us as soon as the fire trucks get out of the way we are free to leave. About forty-five minutes after the crash I’m getting into my car. I had managed to text work to let them know what was going on so I knew I didn’t need to rush. I put my Bluetooth on and turn the car on…..before I start driving I call my Dad. He doesn’t answer and so I ended up leaving a slightly panicked message – I didn’t want to alarm him (I can’t fool him) but I didn’t want to just say ‘hi’. I needed him…I need his voice to tell me I was ok…to calm me down…and assure me I had gotten lucky. When he didn’t answer the CD player came back on…and yes, you guessed it “A Summer Wind, A Cotton Dress” began to play. It’s a very calm and lyrically sweet song. I could feel my blood pressure beginning it’s epically slow decent into my normal range. I had to keep my shit together long enough to drive the remaining half an hour to work. The song helped keep me focused.
I had half an hour to think – no talking to anyone and just 25 miles and a ride across the Hudson River to get through. It occurred to me that I had angels looking over me that morning. All of my angels had been called to keep me out of that accident. All of them played a hand in my being later to leave than I had planned and (I had just had my brakes done) kept me level headed in the midst of flying guardrails and car parts and an asundry of debris. I had often wondered if they’d left me. It’s been years since the last really important person in my life died. While there have been some close calls (we almost lost Dad last year) for the most part the people I know who have died have been related to important people in my life and while I mourned them – it’s not nearly as hard hitting when it’s not your kin or your close friend. So I had been wondering – at one point do the angels just move on and leave us earthlings to our own lives? If you believe in reincarnation as I do than it's a pretty obvious question to ask. They MUST be in someone else’s body by now and being a part of someone else’s soul. They must have left me behind. While I had felt their presence in recent years it had been nothing more than a feeling of being haunted – a ‘knowing’ of sorts. But that morning – in that hour it was clear. I was not alone. I was being looked after – cared for and being kept safe. My angels were there – they had just not been needed in an obvious way in recent years.
Thankfully no one died that morning. But I was a definitely shaken up! I got to work in one piece and my awesome bosses offered up hugs and alcoholic beverages while I ran off at the mouth and started to ‘come down’ from the adrenaline rush that had kept my head focused enough to drive. They told me to take my time and ease into my day. So when my Dad called me back about fifteen minutes later I didn’t feel bad about taking my time to talk to him. He calmed me down. He assured me I was ok and that I was lucky it wasn’t worse. His soothing voice jump-started my blood pressure to lower more quickly and allow me to focus on my work. Which, luckily, in that moment merely entailed me gathering information for my network deliverables (the stuff that Discovery wants to know about the episode and the people in it). It promised to be an easy few hours – perfect and just what I needed before diving into my next episode of “Buying The Bayou”.
That day I took myself out to lunch (sushi – my go-to treat) and celebrated the fact that I was alive - just like my Mother did that icy February day I rolled my sister’s car on a tiny back road in Connecticut when I was seventeen. She took me to a local place for dinner in my home town and while most mothers would have grounded me (even though it was an accident) my Mother told anyone who would listen how glad she was that I was alive and that we were celebrating that fact. It was just us (my sister was away at college) and no grandparents. Just me and Mom and her beaming smile of relief. I later heard from my grandmother that my Mom got really upset when she saw the car that I had rolled. It was totaled and she got scared that, had I not been wearing my seatbelt (for basically the first time – this was before laws), she would have lost her little baby. She never showed me her panic – just her joy. I guess that’s what mothers do. It was also a tremendous lesson I witnessed in being grateful for life and for knowing how to rejoice in the little gifts. Mom was cool like that!
After lunch I was walking back to my desk and my Executive Producer called me into his office and asked me if I’d started on the new ‘Bayou’ episode. I said ‘no – I was just about to, though…’ then he told me the schedule had changed and they were moving me back to ‘Alaska’. So I went to my desk and started the process of working on the new show. My job entails me watching hours upon hours of footage that has been shot by a field crew. Our episodes are all filmed in three days, using three cameras and if I’m lucky I also have transcripts to comb through (word by word typed pages of what was on camera) but I always like to watch the footage first. This way I learn about a personality and also if something had to be re-shot or someone stumbled their words or simply said them in a less than energetic way - than I can choose the best take or version of that segment or interview. Everyone has their own way of working – but this is mine. The more footage I can watch the better my script will be on the first draft. It also helps me change gears and get into a story and figure out what the direction and ‘hook’ will be.
I was still pretty shaken up – my Dad had calmed me down a lot but there was still about twenty percent of me that was feeling weird and nervous even though it had been a few hours since the accident. But I had to work so I pulled up some footage to watch and settled in and let my Final Cut roll. There she was. Someone I’d never seen, and had only heard of in passing a few weeks earlier (as in – ‘that guy’s co-worker will be doing a show’). I don’t know what happened but within a few minutes of me watching her on the screen I could feel myself calming down. How could this be? This is a person on my small screen who is emanating a centred and peaceful vibe, for lack of a better word. But why? What the hell is going on? My mind had a hard time wrapping itself around these thoughts. Maybe it’s like how we felt we were friends with the “Friends” crew or the “Dawson’s Creek” kids because of watching them week after week. Her presence brought me back to earth and I started to feel ok. Was it her easy laugh? Her voice? Her smile? I don’t know, and to this day I’ve no clue what transpired but my shakes started to disappear and my head was beginning to clear. By the end of the afternoon I was feeling normal again. It was like I’d taken a stress B vitamin and gone for a five mile run. Whatever it was – she took me down that last twenty percent. I quietly thanked my angels for this distant presence – for the new, unexpected episode, and for these hours of footage that I got to watch that day.
A few days later I had to reach out to her – I had some questions I needed answering that would help me fill in some blanks to write the episode. It was a very professional email that belied my desire to tell her what she had unknowingly done for me. How do you tell a stranger ‘thanks for calming me down’ when all they did was shoot a television show and until this email in their in box appeared they didn’t even know you existed? Of all the crazy things – I was not about to say a word. A day or so later she wrote me back. But she started the email by asking ME a question. Nobody ever asks ME questions – I’m the Producer looking for answers. So I answered her – I think because she had calmed me down and by now I’d been watching three days of footage for the past three days – I felt comfortable with her and honestly and fully answered her question. Then I thanked her for her answers and then I don’t know how it happened – but the emails continued. More questions from both of us – more answers shared. That led to me sending her some tunes and her liking them.
Then….I started to break my own rule. I never make friends with people I write about. I want to know just enough about them to help me write a better show but anything more – any more contact than the information I need crosses a line for me. Some of it is also that I don’t want to have to worry about whether someone likes the show or not – I just want to write the best one I can without worrying about hurting someone’s feelings – even though I always try and write people in as good and positive light as I can – but still. Maybe because of the accident and her affect on me it made me break my rule (not that that’s any great prize for her) and allowed the boundaries to be broken. Maybe because very quickly I discovered that this was one cool and fascinating person. She’s led a very interesting life and not all of it has been easy. On a daily basis she is faced with immortality and the idea that she may, in all likelihood, outlive her son - all of this due to a random and unfairly drawn straw. Not that she would ever put it that way and not that any of it comes across on camera. Her non-pitying attitude and matter-of-fact approach to this aspect of her life (that she readily shared with me) immediately garnered my respect. This woman is not a victim as so many people are or would be given the opportunity. She is who is and is not defined by her son’s condition. (He suffers from neurofibromatosis – for more on that go to www.ctf.org and please donate if you can.)
It’s been three months since those first emails. Countless texts, phone conversations and boisterous laughing fits have been exchanged. Although we’ve yet to meet – not even on skype or facetime – I feel as though she and I are friends. Good ones. Even though I worry about over sharing on my part and worry about how much does she really want to know about me? Why would she want to know anything? I think that has more to do with where my head, and self esteem have been in recent years and less about her. It’s funny – in one moment she can remind me of my Mother, and then in another moment she’s like the sister I relate to more than my own. We come from such different worlds, and live in very different ones as well, but somehow I feel there’s a soul sister thing going on. We exchange recipes, jokes, and I know more about her musical tastes (which are more diverse than mine, in all honesty) than most people I see on a daily basis. She’s also one of the funniest people I know who can crack me up in a split second. But there’s a kindness to her as well – maybe it’s the mother thing in her – maybe she was just born kind.
Either way, I’m glad I broke my rule – and I’m convinced the angels sent her my way right when I needed her (two weeks after I started that episode I got the courage to thank her for what she ‘did’). I don’t think I was ready for a new person in my life in the previous months or years. If all this had happened a year ago she’s be just another subject in a TV show I wrote about. I’ve no clue why she’s friends with me (she has a very full and busy life and doesn’t really need me in it) but that’s ok – I’m still too busy trying to figure out how it is I am friends with, and feel close to, someone I’ve never met. It’s a new experience for me and it’s cool – I guess we don’t get to understand everything in life. Some things are meant to be a mystery. I need to just accept that and be okay with it all. Whatever our purpose is in each other’s lives I hope we stay friends for a long time. I’m planning on it on my end. I hope she is on hers.
When we do meet face to face (as we have plans to do) I’d like to think it will be like two old friends getting together for early afternoon martinis on a hot summer afternoon in The Berkshires. I’d like to think we’ll be that comfortable with one another. I can only hope, and I’m guessing if my angels have anything to say about it, it will be just like that. Because now more than ever I believe they’ve not left and when called upon they were there…..and are here.
Thanks for tuning in…Until next time…CHEERS!
28 December 2012
So I'm just going to say it: 2012 was a shitty year for me - both personally and professionally. I am so glad to see this year come to an end. Though to be honest, I'm not sure I have the faith right now to believe that the New Year will be any better. I thought that same thing at the end of 2011 (which wasn’t entirely all bad) and where did it get me? A worse year. I'm trying, but it's just not there for me right now. To be clear 2000 & 2001 were THE worst I've ever experienced - this wasn't nearly as bad - and believe me - I do have a fair measure of perspective. As I watch my neighbours suffer the loss of their children and teachers a few miles away I'm reminded that life can always be much worse and, in fact, it is right now for twenty-seven families. Not a day goes by where there isn't some story that brings the degree of separation ever closer; thus serving as a reminder to love the people we love with all we have and to not hold back, or waste time – just in case....So much has already been written about Newtown that I will spare you any more of my thoughts and feelings - but I do want to say one thing: civilians don't need automatic, military grade weapons. If you have any doubt about that come for a visit. I dare you to look in the eye of one of these families and tell them to their face that you support the NRA 100%. I'm guessing you'll get a swift kick, a punch in the eye, and then get run out of our state. As well you should.
Aside from this recent madness it's also been a tough year for a number of people that I love and care for who have lost family members or otherwise had a difficult time of it. Whether it was loss, underemployment, financial stress, or a rough break-up I have to say I know very few people for whom 2012 was a good year. Hell - for most people I know it wasn't even a decent year. Maybe I know the 'wrong' people - or maybe it was just something in the water. I don't understand it but I hope it gets better for all of us and that time will heal. When I am going through a hard time there is a sense of powerlessness watching people I love experiencing rough days. It's almost as if when I'm feeling good I have more strength to be there for others - I feel like I have more to give to them. Basically, I don't like this feeling of powerless one bit. I like being that person that my people can come to and lean on. I don't know that I've done a good job of that this year, though.
Despite my current feelings of failure, throughout my life I have been blessed with some tools that have helped me navigate the highs and lows, the hills and valleys, the roller coaster of life, however you put it - these things have helped me to not entirely loose my shit. No matter how long this current valley seems to be at least I have running (I got up to 7.3 miles a day this month), the outdoors (kayaking, hiking, camping) and music to clear my head and balance my brain - writing, playing and listening. While I didn't have a ton of disposable income this year to be buying a lot of new music I did have Spotify, fellow music lovers, and the most awesome WFUV (90.7 for you locals to NYC or wfuv.org if you live elsewhere) to at least expand my horizons and open my ears.
Since I always do an end-of-year posting of favourites - albeit past years were full of much less bitching - here are some videos that I hope you will check out.
I started with Aimee Mann…good lord! I’ve been a fan since ‘Til Tuesday and if anyone gets better with the years and is as fine as aged whiskey - it’s her! This video of “Labrador” (one of my favourite songs from her new CD, Charmer, and today’s title quote) is a send-up of “Voices Carry” which, for shits and giggles, I included below for a fun comparison. By the way – if you ever have a chance to see her live…run don’t walk! No matter how many times I see her it’s never enough and it’s always a different show! One more thing…hands down she’s one of my favourite musicians I’ve had the pleasure of meeting…super nice and as cool as she appears!
What can I say? Dave Matthews Band just always finds a way to get to me. Maybe it’s his jazz influenced notes, the timing of this song, or maybe he’s got the key to my inner thoughts - but more than likely he’s just a damn good songwriter! Another long-time favourite band of mine this year’s latest release, Away From The World, does not disappoint! The live tracks on this CD are particularly hot as is this tune “If Only”; a sultry, sexy number that in some ways says it all! Also, this video was shot at one of my all-time favourite venues - The Hollywood Bowl - save for Tanglewood you don't get much better than this for a place to hear music and feel the nature surrounding you.
As always I end with Vince Gill's song "What You Give Away" - a humble reminder of all that surrounds us and all that we should strive to be. Call it my religion, my edict, or just wise words to live by. Whatever you call it – just listen….
Some other people whose music I’ve enjoyed this year (but whose videos I’m not posting): James Taylor, Sharon Van Etten, Passenger, Beth Orton, Dawes, Rodriguez, Brandi Carlile, Bonnie Raitt, The Avett Brothers, Glen Hansard, The Tallest Man On Earth, Shawn Colvin and on…..
No matter what you listen to, here's hoping 2013 is a better year and that peace will prevail – both inner and outer. Since I was raised by eternal optimists no doubt it will…and no doubt my existential malaise will wane and be replaced by optimism – it’s how my Mama would want it and I always try to do right by her….
Thanks for tuning in...Until next time...CHEERS and Happy New Year!
24 May 2012
If you break down I'll drive out to find you, if you forget my love I'll try to remind you, stay by you when it don't come easy...
It's been nearly three years since I left Los Angeles. This morning a friend posted this song on Facebook and reminded me that we were there at this show. In the audience were musicians, stars and every day people who were all witnessing this great night of music. I had forgotten about this duet - Patty Griffin and Melissa Etheridge singing live "It Don't Come Easy" for a Lifetime Network benefit show for cancer. It's always been a favourite song of mine from Patty but this is a truly special version and one that has moved me this morning. Hearing this and viewing it brings back a lot of fond memories and reminds me that I lived a good life out there. I didn't always see it that way but I do now. Distance and change since my departure have a way of making me see that the moment I was experiencing in the past may have been one of the best. I am not saying this with any regret. But I do ask myself - did I really appreciate the moment while I was living it? Is it possible to appreciate every moment you are in?
While I ask myself that question I can say with certainty that it does not apply to the people in my life. I've lost many who are close to me and I am no longer shy about telling those I love that they are important and how much their presence enriches my life. I try not to overdo it - but I rarely hang up the phone without saying I love you. Those were the last words I ever said to my mother a mere 6 hours before she died unexpectedly. You never know when life will change so why fuck around and hide from our feelings? In many ways that's the easy part. If you take the time to look at those around you and really assess the people in your life - you will feel that there are many who are worthy of these emotions. I don't give them away easily but I don't wish to deny my feelings, either. I spent much of my twenties and a good deal of my early thirties living in denial and thinking with my head (and which possibly led to the perception that I was playing games). It took someone very special to break through all those walls and show me that it was OK to feel again. It was OK to trust the living instead of only the ghosts that had inhabited me. It wasn't an easy task but somewhere inside of them they must have felt I was worth the effort. I have become more emotionally fearless in the years since we met and much less wasteful of time. For that I am truly grateful to this person.
But yet I wonder - when I was at this concert did I fully appreciate those hours in that small hall? To be honest, I'm not sure I did. I can tell you that it was a great, energizing show - not just Patty Griffin's part - but Sophie B. Hawkins and 'several others'. See? I remember the feeling of that night but I don't remember the details of who else was there. Pathetic. But it says a lot about how little I appreciated the moments I was IN. Over the years that has been one of the things many close friends have pointed out to me as a failing of mine. I know they are right - I know I didn't always appreciate my time in Los Angeles - though I will say the last seven years I was there I did - or most of the time (save for this night). I can say I did because I wouldn't have stayed so long if it weren't worth it. Believe me when I say that I feel I was truly blessed for those years. If I hadn't met that special person of which I speak I would have left a lot sooner and I never would have been at this concert. Everything does happen for a reason and while I don't want to over think anything - it's important to see where a moment began and how you got to where you are. Maybe for that reason alone it's important to be more present.
I'm not sure if I'll ever get the equation right: presence + awareness + living-in-the-moment = immediate appreciation but I'd like to think I've gotten better in the years since this concert was filmed (2006?). I'd like to think that I am least trying to be more present, more appreciative. Sure - it's easy to remember that first kiss leaning against my Cannondale on a monday night - or a first camping trip...or a last one. But it is much harder to remember some of the every day moments. Moments I wish I could get back - moments I would trade for a last hug - or even knowing it WOULD be a last hug. Maybe the trick more is finding that balance between total and complete awareness - thus over thinking while experiencing an event - and living in the present so as to have fewer regrets. (Because no matter how much I think we figure out - I believe it's impossible not to have a regret or two along the way). So many lessons to learn in this life but maybe the real trick is figuring out which ones we NEED to learn. Indeed this is one of them for me.
No matter what - I think at least I got the love part figured out....if nothing else.
Thanks for tuning in...until next time...CHEERS!
21 December 2011
It's the Holiday Season and in case you are looking for some last minute gifts for the music lover in your life I thought I would share some of my recent obsessions.....yes...obsessions...these CD's are awesome on so many levels I feel as though I want to listen to nothing more than these three. For weeks now if I don't have WFUV on I have one of these CD's playing.
Starting with Ryan Adams latest - Ashes and Fire - this CD is his first as a sober writer and I tell you - he's lost nothing by giving up the booze. His music is as thoughtful and at times pained as it ever was! Though it's hard to pick a favourite off of this incredible collection of tunes in this moment on this day it would be "Come Home". If you're new to him and his music this is a great place to start - if you're already a fan - this might become your new favourite CD...I dare say it's mine of 2011! http://www.losthighwayrecords.com/ryanadams
Next up lets talk about Adele. I know, right? If you know me you might not think I'd dig her - but how can you not? I've been a fan since her 19 release and I absolutely can't get enough of 21 which was released earlier this year. I have no idea what took me so long to acquire this but man - she has proven here that she's no flash in the pan. This chick is the real deal and seriously talented! I suspect we will know of her for many years to come as she does not appear to be of the Amy Winehouse School of Rock - what a tragic loss! Back to Adele - not only is she a talented songwriter she chooses some great songs to cover - I never thought I'd ever want to hear anyone but The Cure sing one of my favourites by them - "Lovesong" - but damn does she do it right! This chick is no product of computer generated ANYTHING....she is who you hear on her CD's...to prove it I am sharing her live version of the song from Letterman. Speaking of her live performances I can't wait to get my hands on her Live From Albert Hall CD! http://www.adele.tv/
I've been an Indigo Girls fan from the very, very beginning. I even saw them live at Yale playing to probably no more than 100 people one summer day back in the later 80's. But I have to say I've not loved every CD they've put out. They have come in and out of favour with me over the years. I've not felt that they have been as consistent with their music as one would hope. So maybe that's why I love Beauty Queen Sister so very much! It harkens back to their roots yet displays musical maturity that come from being around for so long and hopefully improving on your craft. To be honest I've always had a hard time with the religious references that permeates their music (hence their knick name "The Bible Dykes") but I've always been able to get past that and enjoy their honest, well spoken lyrics and pure, sweet as southern tea melodies. One of the things I want to say that surprised me about this collection of tunes is that Amy Ray's music - for possibly the first time for me - has truly tugged at my innards in a way that her songs never have. I've always felt that Emily's music, being the literature major of the two, was more romantic and appealed to me more than Amy's harder edged tunes. Not on this CD! Amy's songs are among my favourites - again - not that I could have a favourite - but in this moment I will say Amy's "Share The Moon" might be the best tune on the whole CD....so here you go! http://www.indigogirls.com/home.html
Ok - so to be clear - we've had a full year of new music so I'd like to throw in some 'also ran's' for some great music that I have yet to become obsessed with - though Cory Chisel and The Wandering Sons CD Cabin Ghosts (http://www.corychisel.com/) is very close to obsession for me. In no particular order here they are:
One half of The Swell Season - Marketa Irglova struck out on her own this year to put our Anar....what a great CD!! http://marketairglovamusic.com/
Iron and Wine also put out a cool one this year....http://www.ironandwine.com/
Totally digging David Mead's latest, Dudes, another CD worth your hard earned cash! http://www.davidmead.com/
Mildly obsessed with Brandi Carlile's The Story....this chick is awesome! http://www.brandicarlile.com/
Last but not least - Harper Simon - Wishes and Stars - Paul's 30-something year old son waited until he could afford to make this CD on his own instead of trading on his name...worth the wait! This guy has talent! http://harpersimon.com/
That about covers it for now so - go buy some new music!! I wish you all a Happy and Healthy Holiday Season and a Happy New Year! Remember - it's "What You Give Away" (thanks Vince Gill) that counts the most!
Thanks for tuning in...Until next time.....Cheers!!
25 July 2011
In honour of her very sad passing this past weekend I thought I would republish this post from May 2007. Needless to say this is a very deep loss to the music community and her talent will be missed! She was a true original....RIP, Amy...
I picked up the Amy Winehouse CD, Back To Black , this weekend and thought I would try something new – writing about it as I listen for the first time. Over the last few months (her second album, it was released in October 2006) I’ve heard a track here and there but this is my first REAL sit down with it. So far it’s a smooth mix of jazz and R & B.
What strikes me most is her retro sounding voice. If I didn’t have a picture of her in front of me (she definitely looks like a modern woman – tattoos and all) I would think she’s some 1960’s girl jazz group reincarnate (were there actually any? But still….). This isn’t surprising since she sites as her influences many female jazz/R & B singers – Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington and the late great Minnie Ripperton to name a few.
At this point I’m about half way through the CD and so far I would say I’m really loving the music! Somehow, some way you get the feeling that this could be a live show in a club in NYC in the mid 1960’s. I swear it’s truly amazing how good this stuff sounds! Don’t get me wrong – it’s not some faux retread, it’s fresh and interesting and downright impressive! Even the backing vocals have it down…back when they added almost more than real instruments and certainly more than they add these days. I think that was what was so cool about the music then - it was more basic and stripped down – you couldn’t hide behind synthesizers and electronic drums – you had to work with what you had and vocals stood out more because of those now antiquated methods of recording and more ‘acoustic’ instruments. Nowadays it’s easy to fill in musical gaps – to make something better than it is because of all the recording tricks, and cutting and pasting one can do whilst in the studio and after the fact.
While I can’t be certain of the methods used in recording this CD, I can say that after hearing the whole album straight through it’s true to it’s word throughout– honest, pure and definitely a sexy listen! If you’re looking for something retro but new and fresh – this is it! She’s got a killer voice – the songs are cool and it’s a fun ride! Check her out at itunes, www.myspace.com/amywinehouse, or http://www.amywinehouse.co.uk/
My mother always told me ‘those who can’t do – teach’. She felt that if you were really capable at your art – you wouldn’t be teaching it – you would be a successful artisan. This was especially loud in my ears as she fought my tenth grade English teacher when he gave me a ‘C’ on a paper she (and others – including my mother’s own college professor) felt was a college level paper. She even tried to get the hack fired - that’s how strongly she was behind it. So when recently I was asked to donate time to run lights for the adult version of “Grease” for the kiddie school where I have worked on and off over the last six months – I was a little skeptical. Of course, it was all for their scholarship fund – about 30 students a session are on scholarship – so that wasn’t the issue – every person working on it donated their time – but I was unsure of what I would see on stage. In the adult versions of these musicals all the teachers, some former teachers and a few parents act and sing their way through the show.
I was, to say the least, pleasantly surprised. After months of seeing/working these kiddie shows where, despite the talent that some of these kids come from, the apple does apparently fall from the tree, it was great to see a show how it’s supposed to be done! There were harmonies, people being IN character, knowing their lines and knowing the songs. Overall I was impressed by the actors on stage! Of course some were better than others and some were more in tune than others but no matter what it was a lot of fun! Everyone on stage and in the audience had a blast – and it showed! At one point last night I held a blackout a little longer because “Good Lovin” came on (I know – “Grease” takes place in the 50’s and this song came out in 1966 – a point not lost on me) and everyone in the theatre started clapping in time and singing along, it was a cool moment that you think only happens in movies. But the point is – while no one on stage is an academy award winning actor or singer these teachers impressed me. They can do!
Thanks for tuning in…Until next Monday….CHEERS!
10 June 2011
Our love is like a paper airplane flying in the folded wind Riding high, dipping low And innocence is fair game, I'm hoping I can hold it in
Wow....has it really been that long since I've updated this? Needless to say it's been a busy few months. But I've still had time to buy some new music so I thought I'd share what I've been listening to in recent weeks and months...in no particular order...Enjoy!
I think I'll stop right there.....I hope you've enjoyed this snippet of new(er) tunes...
Thanks for tuning in...Until next time...CHEERS!
I think I'll stop right there.....I hope you've enjoyed this snippet of new(er) tunes...
Thanks for tuning in...Until next time...CHEERS!
19 January 2011
And in those times of trouble When you are most alone The memory of love will bring you home. John Denver
It's been 11 years and one day since I last heard my Mother say "I love You". In fact, those were the last words she ever said to me the evening before she unexpectedly died. It is the memory of her love and those last words that carry me through my days. Those words echo in my heart when I feel the world has turned away. They ring in my ears and serve to remind me that wherever I am I am nothing if not loved. Love carries on and transcends time and physical place. My mother was not perfect - she had her faults - and her demons. Yet despite an early childhood spent in displaced persons camps in Poland and Germany right after WWII she embraced the world around her with compassion and grace along with an abundance of optimism. She was beautiful inside and out - she was humble - she was kind - she was giving. I am truly blessed that she was my Mother and that 'those' were the last words we spoke to each other.
The greatest gift my Mother gave me aside from her wit, her charm (I hope) and her nose- was her love. Or more specifically - her fearlessness towards love. She was not afraid to tell the people in her life that she loved and cared for them. She went out on a limb - she threw away all caution - she jumped right in - despite the pain that might follow - she LOVED with everything she had and did so generously. She may have feared rejection (she was, after all, an actress) but she didn't let the fear prevent her from expressing her feelings and demonstrating her love. She not only said "I Love You" she showed it. Maybe that scared some people - I'm sure at times in my troubled youth it scared me - but she persevered. She hugged, she held, and she cried right along with you if you needed her. She was supportive, encouraging and completely unconditional with her love. I say this not just as her daughter - but I've been told by those who knew her as an adult and a contemporary. She meant LOVE and she was LOVE.
I do my best to carry her lessons with me on a daily basis. Although it took me years of reckless behaviour to fully grasp Her kind of Love luckily my Mother bore witness and, hopefully, truly felt my love. My Dad tells me that she did. So if I love you - I say it. I fear nothing - except rejection - yet still I persevere. I mean it, too. I mean it forever. I mean it unconditionally. Once you have entered my heart there is no escaping. There are those I've not heard from in years - but if they were to reach out - they would find my open arms. I learned all this from my Mother. Love is forever and it will bring you home.
Thanks for tuning in....Until next time....CHEERS!