Friday, June 5, 2020

How to be a songwriter in current times

What a week of excitement, anger, brutality, coordination, peace, frustration, and just about any combination of feelings and action you can juxtapose. Louisville is a wild place to be right now, though from my little corner of the city, I suppose I'm at the same vantage point as anyone else in the world: watching from my phone.

It's an interesting time to be an artist. I want to write my feelings out, but I also don't think my feelings are particularly important right now. Instead I want to amplify the stories and the songs of black artists, who have much more relevant things to say. I'm also such low-level artist, who doesn't have the same reach as a real celebrity, that it feels weird to even be writing about it.

This morning I'm sitting in my house thinking about ... well, thinking about everything... and wondering what I could be doing from my own 'career.' Almost too many options.

From a more specific angle, a musical colleague sent me some recorded music that I'm trying to write lyrics to. The music is peppy, fun, and ... was composed before the protests began. I've never written lyrics to someone else's music before (i always write my own music), so it's already a strange-but-cool position for me to be in. I'm enjoying the prompt, but all that's on my mind is protest songs and focused rage and desire to give my platform to OTHER people.

When I see a white musician post a song about current events, I want to beg them to let black artists have this moment instead.

So I don't know that it's appropriate to write a protest song or song about current events from my perspective. And I don't want to do what I have done in the past: which is to write a song from the POV of someone else, in an attempt to understand their feelings. This isn't the moment to speak for other people: this is the moment to FINALLY let The Other SPEAK. SHOUT. ANYTHING.

Anyway, I've written some protest-y lyrics to this peppy country track, but I'm thinking of going back, rewriting it, making it more of an ABBA-kind-of-track about puppies or rainbows instead.

In related news, if you're a person who likes to download actual audio files instead of just streaming, then go support some black musicians on BandCamp. Today, ending at midnight, Bandcamp is waiving their fees, so 100% of the money goes to artists. It's a way to directly support musicians who need to be amplified. Here's a list of black musicians with links to their bandcamps!


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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Funpaid work

Castle in Wales -- which castle is it? Postcard to the first to
name it. Mostly because I can't remember and I really want
to know the answer.
I have this problem: I cannot stop creating, collaborating and working. I love my job. Since I lost all my gigs on March 7, I've somehow still been working full time. Part of my job is making sure that y'all don't forget me, so there's this blog, of course. Also ...

My identity is wrapped up in having been a full-time independent professional musician since 2002 -- without outside help. I hold too much pride in that I financed my own instruments with bank loans, not angel investors. It's not other people's fault that they came with trust funds or angel investors. I was just never in the right place at the right time. There was I time I could have signed to my dream label, but I left the old man's apartment in Nashville (without harm and also without a record deal) because I suddenly realized why he'd brought me there. A story for the memoir I'll write someday, perhaps.

Anyway, my point is that, while I staunchly believe musicians should be paid for their work and should refuse to work with crap people who don't pay, I also recognize that sometimes artists just NEED TO CREATE! COVID has changed the unpaid stuff into #funpaid. So I'm eating my words and not getting paid. COVID changes everything :)

Here's just a snapshot of the #funpaid things I've done during my "time off." Asterisks denote that I received a small honorarium:

This week I've got an op-ed coming out in LEO Weekly and I'm going to do a Pop-Up LIVESTREAM on my Facebook Page whenever I can find some quiet time away from the tiny creatures who need me so :) 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Anxiety and empathy and all that i'm trying

What is it you miss the most? I miss interaction, which is strange because I'm mostly introverted. I can't imagine how the extroverts are handling this, and I empathize. We are settling into this new normal and are extremely privileged in so many ways -- mostly, however, because we have a roof over our heads and a family unit. I wish my parents were alive, so we could have moved in together and communed. But I'm also grateful they are already dead because I am freed of the anxiety of wondering if they will be coronavictims.

That doesn't mean I'm free from anxiety, however. Last night a utility pole caught on fire on my street, leading to a transformer blowing and a lot of flickering lamps and not sleeping until things were sorted out (around 2am?). It's funny what scenarios an anxiety-ridden brain can dream up in a matter of seconds.

Tell me this: You -- you who are out there quarantined with young children -- how are you coping? Is it screen time? Is it forgoing all school Zoom meetings and learning when the moment strikes (that's us)? Is it sticking to a rigid schedule? (That does not work for us because one-minute off-schedule yields massive anxiety to both me and Graham, apparently we have the Kaelin time issues.) Is it letting go?

There is SUCH a difference between the posts I am seeing from my childless or child-free friends. I know it's leading to resentment between these two groups as well -- particularly the ones who wish they had children, but don't. I am also finding myself reacting negatively to posts from my child-free friends who offer wise yoga words that are completely irrelevant to a family trying to hold it together.

But empathy: I am trying to hold onto empathy.

I am trying to recognize that everyone is approaching a breaking point. Our reactions to each other's posts are dramatic, are enlarged, are knee-jerk and are not healthy.

But how -- how -- can we learn to manage them? Medication? Marijuana? Manhattans? Meditation? They may each have the same effect, but remember that your meditation doesn't work when you don't have a 3000 square foot house to separate yourselves from your children. Or that your Manhattan doesn't work to someone who is sober. Or your medication isn't available to those who can't afford it.

I am working hard on my own reactions. This shit is hard, y'all. In the mean time, please enjoy photograph of Ireland.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Choose my next single release!

Cute baby blogs get more attention than music blogs, but I am releasing a new single! And I'm letting my fans/friends (sometimes there's overlap - sometimes not!) choose which one to release.

Click on over here to hear snippets of the choices and cast your vote:

I'm also getting really excited about the prospect of making a music video for this one. I never had funding for a music video before, so only one of my songs has a proper video. You wouldn't believe how much it costs to do it right! I'm going to do my best to hire when I can (your patreon dollars make that possible) and use my own tech skills for the rest of it. But it's really hard to be a good camera person when you are also IN the film. I'm gonna have to teach someone else in my family how to run a camera.

Fortunately, Graham wants to be a filmmaker, so we are gonna try to work together. He's already been directing my Livestreams on Facebook, which is funny. I give him full control, so i never have any idea which camera he's using or what title cards he's put up there. But he's enjoying the ride.

I think I'm probably gonna need one of these cool Green Screen Bodysuits so I can make myself invisible, don't you think???

Monday, May 18, 2020

Worldschooling dreams and realities.

The Falls of the Ohio, Louisville skyline
I've always dreamed of worldschooling. I've also been really hesitant of it because I'm a big believer in pubic schools -- for so many reasons. But with pandemic, I've discovered I'm in the minority of parents out there: having the kids home has actually been working really well for us.

I think it's related to my job and the fact that I solo parent 4 days a week. Even now that David isn't traveling, he's still working 14-16 hr days (the poor guy!). Since my job schedule has never been 9-5 and has always been unpredictable, it's been really nice to not have to get a kid to a bus stop or pick him up at a specific time. I'm not doing carpool for preschool, but I am playing Baby Pet Cobra this morning. (I'm currently a Mommy Cobra who needed some alone time.)

Worldschooling is a newer buzzword, and I sort of always assumed it was just for the independently wealthy ... the type of family who just buys an RV with the trust fund and makes a living off YouTube videos of their adventures. (Please note the envy in my tone there: I would both love a trust fund and a solid YouTube channel.)

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Last summer one day I was hiking in Switzerland behind an ancient Abbey, while David explained irrigation systems to Graham and I birdwatched with Angus and I just had this complete joy of teaching the children about the world. And I realized I was worldschooling. On that hike, the kids learned of species, of kingdoms, or scientific classifications. They learned the Swiss German word for "badger" and how to tell which firewood was older and which was more recently cut. They learned about religion (not my bag, but I treat it as anthropology) because the hike followed The Stations of the Cross which was kinda like an English and History lesson in narrative structure, the mystical number of seven, which we tied into a Harry Potter conversation, and just WOW!

The joy that I felt at being with my kids was so different than the stressful days of "gotta get to swim practice and memorize your audition and practice piano" all in the 60 minutes a day that I actually see my child because I'm gigging at night and school takes up nine hours of your day and you've already read Harry Potter seven and you're only in first grade so surely a few years of traveling around and visiting national parks and learning algebra while baking cookies wouldn't ruin you!
Fossil-hunting at the Falls of the Ohio!

We left the house this weekend. We've been in severe lockdown, but we got in the car (we stupidly purchased a car  JUST before pandemic, after being 8.5 years car-free) and went to a Historic State Park: The Falls of the Ohio, where we hunted fossils, talked of locks and hydraulics and engineering and geology and time and government offices and following directions and general joy emerged. The joy of learning and of being together.

I put the kids to bed eventually, and then got my work done. Because my work is night work anyway. I know it doesn't work for most, but the public school schedule is an awful thing to have to adhere to when you're a self-employed second-shift worker.

I think I could get used to this.

Grateful to be in the minority here, but reminding myself that my work has merit. It's brought a smile to at least a hundred thousand people, according to YouTube views (for which I'm not getting paid!).

I swear you will feel SO GOOD if you just click here and become a Patron, and I'll even send you a handwritten thank you.

Even though I'm not getting paid now (unemployment hasn't come through, and I've been creating unpaid content and recordings for so many organizations and other creators), I'm still busy creating. I'm creating things that bring YOU joy, like these things I've done (for free) over the past month. My only income is Patreon, and I PLEASE urge you, if you're still here, to just take a minute and join my Patreon. Here's what I've done -- again: FOR FREE!

This video, with Jim James, Will Oldham, Teddy Abrams, Carly Johnson, Jecorey Arthur, Cheyenne Mize, Sam Bush, Michael Cleveland, and, as i am so often credited: "many more" :) (I actually get credit on Spotify for this, which is cool!)

Here's me creating something to bring joy to YOU:

Here's me reading a story to your kids! For The Courier Journal/Gannett/USAToday:

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Allegory of Forgiveness

My kids, playing.
I've been leading a book club for a handful of neighborhood kids, ranging age 7-10 and all within a few houses of each other. We are tempted to meet in a backyard, but we meet on Zoom. I can't remember how we chose the book, but we chose The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

It's a book I've read so many times, the first being when Mrs. Bensenhaver read it aloud to us in the 2nd grade, to, well, this past month with the neighborhood book club. With roots in Christianity, it's not a book that I've ever been drawn to ... I had too many "Christians" in school tell me I was going to hell because my mother was Jewish, so that turned me off from stories like this, allegory or not.

But it's no secret that I love to teach, and I have absolutely loved discussing themes and symbolism in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, without even bringing the story of Jesus into the conversation.

Earlier this week we discussed the whole book and a big part of my conversation (yes, with a bunch of kids, I recognize the situation for what it is, but also sometimes talking to children can yield the brightest revelations) was the idea of Betrayal and Forgiveness.

Betrayal is no stranger. Forgiveness, however, is hard.

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In the book, Edmund is a pretty big turd, and, like, tried to turn his FAMILY over to the witch. But somehow his family just forgave him. I found this outrageous, as did the other two only children in the book club. The siblings in the group, however, were, like, "Yeah, he was a turd, but he's family."

That's what's got me overthinking everything this week. I've been learning that family is much easier to forgive. But also I'm not convinced that family should always be forgiven. I mean, if family turns you over to a freaking WITCH just for some Turkish Delight, I think that might be grounds for, um, getting toxic people out of your life, or whatever the buzzword is, you know?

But also, I get it. I understand the theme, and yes, even the Christian side (though Christians don't have the patent on forgiveness)

How's everyone doing??

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Travel: A distant memory.

Lake Side in Lake Zurich, Switzerland
Here's the thing about having a horrible year: you are slapped in the face with your own mortality. It's an obvious life lesson, but to have both parents -- a generation -- wiped from your family tree in a matter of months maybe just makes that whole Life Lesson font a bit more bold.

Last summer, just days after my dad died, I started to escape. First, I buried him on Father's Day (not the brightest thing, but I didn't have much of a choice), and a few days later I left town. The family and I drove to Florida. We played in pools and beaches and cast magical spells upon each other. We drove north and took the long way home, coastlines and mountains. We came home, then packed and hit the road for a tour of a few shows I had booked in Scotland and Switzerland. Then I played in Colorado, had Christmas in Texas with David's family and finally went on one final trip, a writing retreat near Glendalough, Ireland. 

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I returned on February 26, played a few private parties, and promptly went into lockdown.

I am so grateful for the trips I was able to take. Most of them were for work, yes even that four-week jaunt around Europe last summer, which I'm going to start blogging about. It felt weird to write about joyous trips when I was grieving so deeply, but I have photos and thoughts to share. And since we are all on lockdown, we can travel virtually, right?

I am so grateful that I was on a Life is Short kick when we decided to cash in our airline points and take the boys to Europe while I played music festivals last summer. I'm so grateful my kids got to stay with family and friends in Scotland, France and Switzerland.

Last night at family dinner, we spoke of travel plans, and I'm realizing that I'm not sure when we'll be able to to travel again. It is hard for me, but it is also forcing me to engage in my reality: that both my parents are gone and I'm still dealing with "their crap," from taxes to Corningware.

Something that DELIGHTED me was when Angus said, "Remember when we were in Switzerland and we went to Lakeside? Except it wasn't the Kentucky Lakeside, it was actually a real lake?" He was only three last summer, and he brought up these memories. And however ridiculous it may have been to take two small children on a worldwide trip that they probably won't remember, well, guess what? I think they will remember. Because our memories, our photos, our travel stories -- that's all we're going to have for a very long time.

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Avoca Weavers, County Wicklow, Ireland. Feb 2020

Ireland. Feb 2020.

Brigid, the Glendalough Unicorn. 
Glendaloug, Wicklow, Ireland.

How to be a songwriter in current times

What a week of excitement, anger, brutality, coordination, peace, frustration, and just about any combination of feelings and action you can...