Sunday, July 20, 2008

Something's Comin' Up

Back in college I worked on a thesis my senior year and wrapped up all of my advanced required coursework my final year before graduation. Most of my requirements were out of the way and I had to find some other course to take to keep my full-time status. Something that would take my mind off the blindingly dull step-by-step of cloning genes and sequencing DNA strands. (Seriously!! It's not exciting especially back in the 80s before automated techniques were invented.)

I didn't have time to listen to music much but I loved and missed it so maybe there was a way I could incorporate it into my coursework.

So I found two semesters of Music Theory for non-music majors. This was great! It's one thing to enjoy listening to music, now I can learn how it works! They wouldn't expect too much out of the kids in this class since music was not going to be our career.

If there are any serious musicians reading this, please resist the urge to chuck your computer out the window when you see what I'm about to describe. We're talking first day, kindergarten time music theory here. Basic pitch notation, writing out major and minor scales, key signatures ad nauseum. Eventually the instructor threw caution to the wind and went into chord structures and finally into harmonizing melodies. I have some great-looking notations in the old workbook I found recently. I must have gotten a decent grade, although I can't remember what it is, and none of what I wrote in the exercise book at the time makes any sense now.

Music Theory class taught me a life lesson that has helped me to this day.

I can't create music.

At all.

If I was predisposed to getting myself eviscerated by Simon Cowell and ending up on the American Idol Loser Reel, that path, thankfully, was averted before I was old enough to drink legally.

But the point of taking the class wasn't to turn me into a musician. (Fat freakin' chance anyway....) Like everything else I enjoy, I want to understand it. How does it work, what kind of subtleties am I missing? The point was to put some effort into enjoying music more. So at least that got accomplished.

Whether it's music in church or whatever is on my iPod, since that class I started hearing more in everything I listened to. (This is where the real musicians need to be patient because I'm trying to describe things that probably have names, but I don't know what they are!) I can listen past the melody line and hear chord progressions and different harmonizing lines leading in and out of each other. I loved "I Made it Through the Rain" on Manilow Live where Barry breaks down the different orchestral parts in the first verse. There was more to hear in the song than there was before. When Barry posted "Golddigger" on the vault (still my favorite of the 3 songs posted there since the site's re-launch) and he described in his notes about the complicated vocal arrangement at the end of the song, I could honestly say, "Hey, yeah, I hear that!"

The other turning point that came from that class was I loved to hear newer, more inventive creations from my favorite artists and bands. Now that I had some clue what to look for, I wanted to find it everywhere.

One of my favorite artists came out with a new solo record that was his first release after getting a new digital studio installed. I was screaming from the rooftops that this was the best work he ever released to the public. (I still think so.) You had modern pop, even some urban stuff, hard-core blues and blue-eyed soul, even some out-there electronica and "spoken word" hidden tracks. It wasn't *just* the style(s) of music that he created, although I loved all of it. It was that all of his fans knew that he was capable of these styles and off-the-wall creations and new musical insights but the key was getting him to stick it on a CD and release it. He could compose and record a standard rock or pop tune as easily as whistling in the shower, of course he did that well. But those of us in the audience who have no idea what it's like to hear music before anyone else does, and can't put it together in an original way to save our lives are looking for a clue into ... well, what it's like.

So I'm one of those people who does NOT think that "experimental" is a dirty word. Some artists (including the one described above) think calling new work "experimental" is somehow degrading. I don't, but what word do you use? You're trying out new things that you KNOW you are capable of doing well but for whatever reason, you just didn't. When I hear new music styles from any artist, I'm grasping at a clue as to what it's like to have that kind of creativity. I can hear how an arrangement makes sense but I can't jump across the gap from understanding a creative new direction to feeling the creative process itself. So new musical styles is the closest someone like me will ever get.

I have a feeling I'm not being obvious enough. Oh well, here goes.

Barry, for the love of God, just do the rock album already. You know as well as any one of your serious fans that your best releases were what YOU wanted to do and not what someone else was making you do. Paradise Cafe? Mayflower? Come on... Even a novice like me can hear the difference when your heart is completely in a project.

I seem to remember a certain autobiography from about 1987-ish where somebody talked about going to high schools and giving the kids advice on becoming musicians. I dug it out because someone wrote a few great lines in there. Tell me if these sound familiar.

"Believe in yourself. Trust yourself. You have all the answers in you - you really do. Take chances. If you're faced with the choice to play it safe or to gamble - gamble!"

Well? Is that true or not?

I think it is.....

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sorry, I couldn't help it.

Fools Get Lucky

When I see you lying there
Like a living answered prayer
There are no words
For what I feel for you

I was going to try to organize a number of random thoughts into a story but it just isn't happening.

Every so often, no matter how busy things get, it strikes me how lucky I was to find my best friends in my life, including the one I married. If people who know me could list my faults (you'd have to pull up a chair and order a pizza to get through that list) I imagine they'd list somewhere that I just say what I think. Some people call it a strength but we all know when people speak their minds, even cautiously, even with the best of helpful intentions, someone is going to get turned off.

I'm fortunate enough to have people in my life and family who tell me what they think because they mean the best for me. It's wonderful to trust someone so much that whatever they say is good for you, whether it "hits" you the right way or not. They trust me just as much - and I can say whatever I want to Pete, always in what I think will help him, and he never gets mad at it and he is always there.

That's rare - and I wish I could share it with everyone. And I wish everyone understood me the same way. The peace that comes with that kind of trust and acceptance is overwhelming. At the same time my worst fear is losing it, or watching it come to an end, or being misunderstood. That's where the faith comes in - that the trust is always there for you, and for me.
I found this article in my "news analysis" (read: surfing the web and wasting time) moments yesterday.
Fr. Jonathan Morris is a commentator on religious issues for Fox News and he related a fascinating experience from Capri this week.
Great food for thought on what happiness is, where it comes from and where not to look for it.

Happiness on the Isle of Capri

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Golden Rule - The Hard Way

Before we get into my latest epistle let's get something straight.

I am nobody.

You probably don't know my name. Or where I live. Or my family's names. Or my complete biography.

What's more, you don't care.

I had one experience where it was fun to be gawked at like a freak show. It was a local historic society's street fair where the locals showed up in period dress. Tourists showed up for the street fair and because Pete and I dressed the part, total strangers were lining up for a photo op with one or both of us. I could have soaked that up for weeks but the fair was only one day.

If you've been following this blog (or if you care to go back to the beginning for some background) you know that I lost my love of music for ten years over a conflict online.

If it was two people bitchslapping each other by email, it wouldn't have been a big deal.

I was singled out by a celebrity with an attitude problem thanks to some warped fans with their own insecurities. Intentionally or not, he made me a "local" celebrity too. And that was my first trip through a couple circles of Hell.

I was accused of revealing personal information about this man that I never had. The minute that accusation was posted, several dozen people started an argument about it. Most joined in on the side of their idol. I must have been terrible. A liar. A psychopath. I had never met most of these people, or even spoken to them online but there was an advantage to be gained by agreeing with the man they wanted attention from. On the other side there were my friends and supporters who knew that I was none of the terrible things that were posted plus others who thought that the "idol" was off his rocker. I was wonderful, creative, generous, misunderstood but patient. Where the hell did they get that from?

So here I am in the middle of an argument about me. People that I had met were passing around anecdotes of their encounters with me and a full-blown analysis and conclusion of my worth as a human being. People I had NEVER interacted with heard these stories - some benevolent, some not - and added their own perspectives, embellishing the details as they went. The worst thing I did was try to defend myself. Woooooo......bad move! It didn't resolve anyone's questions it was just more fuel for the fire.

Once the official conflict was over and done with (my "crush" and I actually called a verbal "cease-fire" in a private chat and made nice in the fan world) the speculation refused to die. In fact it mutated into studying other aspects of my life. It wasn't just something to talk about. We're talking full-on obsession.

Strangers drove by my house taking pictures.

People who were only names on a screen watched for me at concerts - and sneaked pictures when I wasn't looking. Worse than that was exaggerating every move I made and every word I said. I wore a tank top and leggings to a concert in Kansas; some asshole who thought he was being funny decided to tell his friends I was wearing babydoll lingerie in public.

I lost count of the hang-up calls at home. I put the state police on speed-dial.

Then the hang-up calls started coming at my job. I mentioned in an earlier post that I took a voluntary demotion at work. This was part of the reason why.

The only friends that I had left were ones who also had run-ins with this particular musician. Their experiences were like mine so we ended up exiled together. Precious little common ground was better than none, for all of us.

THREE YEARS after the initial silliness that snowballed out of control and I was gone from the fan world, I had a fiance, and music was a memory for me, one of the obsessives revived his habit and decided to make me the focus of his time again. Speculation on what I was doing, where I was going. It wasn't all negative, some had me envisioned as this powerful Hedda Hopper world traveller type. I was "seen" in places I'd never been! The tales were taller than ever about what I was like as a person. The hang-up calls began again. They stopped when Pete answered using his "don't even THINK about messing with me" voice.

I am nobody. I have no interest in being in the public eye. Not in entertainment or politics or anything. I am married so I have a different name. I ditched my nickname. I live in a different city. And I trust no one that isn't family.

My outlook on humanity is guarded. My name is no where in this blog. Neither is my husband's. (You don't really think his name is Pete, do you??) It will be a cold day in Hell when my childrens' names end up on line. I will never allow such a public violation to happen again. Only three people on the Manilow network know my name. I hope and pray every day I made the right choices in that.

Every post, every story in this blog is the God's honest truth but I always leave out certain details in case some of those old stalkers are still around. Sounds crazy? As recently as 2007 someone was trying to ask questions about where I currently live. They either love the person the rumors created, or they love to hate her. It's not crazy - it's fear and survival.

I only got the smallest taste of this kind of life. It's not part of my career. I'm nobody. I'm not even the person in the rumors or stories.

It's horrible. If that's what being a celebrity is, you can have it.

I don't read gossip magazines or watch "entertainment" TV shows. I don't care who someone is, or what their career is, or what they've done even in public, they don't deserve the harrassment and stalking that fuels those kinds of media. That tiny little taste I got was more than enough education for me. I wouldn't wish that kind of attention on my worst enemy's dog. I'm not going to participate in it when it comes to someone who's music I enjoy.

I'm jus' sayin....

No one knows you but they all "love" you
Just don't let them get too much of you
Careful, man
Don't forget you're the Shadow Man

Thursday, July 3, 2008

I'll Be There For You

One of the things that I always thought was cool about the BMIFC was that each local club had its own philanthropy or charity - even before it was "cool" to be charitable or green or whatever today's buzzword is. I was perusing the Manilow Fund website and when I noticed that homelessness is one of the fund's foci, it brought back quite a few memories.

If I learned anything over the years about charity it's that when you help people in need, you'll do more good all around by serving up some dignity with it. Pride may go before a fall if you've read Proverbs lately but it's one of the things that separates us from the animals and drives us to be better human beings.

I also thought of this because the summer is the time when everyone is focusing on BBQ and vacations and the beach. Homeless ministries have the lowest resources at this time of year. Everyone thinks that Christmas or Thanksgiving, or even Easter is the time to be charitable to the homeless and hungry. Got a flash for ya, kids: people are hungry all year around.

In college I had a calculus prof who claimed to offer extra credit in exchange for joining a group from his church that worked at a soup kitchen on weekends. The extra credit offer was bullshit but it got our attention and piqued our interest. It took a lot to convince 19-year-olds to drag themselves out of bed early on a Saturday or Sunday morning.

I got to this itty bitty little independent non-denominational church in the worst part of town at 8 AM for my first visit and orientation. Squat little building, perfectly round. No windows. You'd never know this was a church if my prof wasn't flagging me down as I stepped around the winos in the gutter and trying to ignore the knife fight two alleyways over.

This was no ordinary weekend soup kitchen. The church's fellowship hall in the basement was set up as if for some kind of social function. About 10 or 12 of the usual round tables, 10 seats per, paper tablecloths and a cheap vase of plastic flowers on each.

The director had a little sit-down with all of the new recruits. There were things that we needed to know before we began serving our guests. Not clients. Not homeless. DEFINITELY not bums. Guests. This kitchen worked on the premise that if you treat all comers as you would the mayor of the town, that is exactly how they will behave and not only will they benefit from a hot meal, their hopes and spirits will lift as well. That alone could be the key to survival and a better life.

There was no security here. I mean none. The priest who used to be in the Marines didn't count. Armed thugs tended to reduce the "guest" experience. In the 10 or so years the kitchen had been running to that point the director claimed that there had been only three "knock-down-drag-outs" ever, and none recently. See the point above about treating people as guests and that is how they would behave.

We all got to work cooking in the main kitchen during the rest of our pep talk. The director was the maitre d'. He would escort a guest to an open seat and a plate of dinner was prepared and served. No herding people through a cafeteria like cattle through a chute. After working as a sous chef prepping the meal I was assigned to be a waitress. Big shocker, that was one of my regular college jobs.

Doors open, and clients come in and are seated. The director was right - people didn't behave like they lived on the street when they came into this place. I picked up a styrofoam dinner plate and plastic utensils and served like I did in my regular restaurant job. I didn't think "service with a smile" would carry that far. There was real gratitude for a freshly-made hot meal. There are no words, it's so intangible that you have to experience it - really get in and get involved with people - to see what I"m talking about.

I was pretty hooked. I spent most Saturday mornings for the next school year there. It was just like my regular restaurant job except I got no tips. Shitty tips would have been an improvement! My work was returned to me in other ways. Later on that semester I found myself hopelessly lost in that part of town. My hackles were up and I was really scared. A couple of the regulars saw me and escorted me back to the nearest subway station with the stern admonishment to get my "skinny ass back to school!" I was being stalked and a moment away from being mugged and worse when my customers found me. We volunteers edified each other too in this work. Toward Easter, the director realized that the Christian volunteers would need that particular Sunday off, so word was sent out to the synagogues to send extra volunteers on Easter Sunday "so that our Christian friends can celebrate their high holy day." So many volunteers showed up that many had to be turned away.

Like every other college kid I went home for the summer while school was out. When I came back, I learned that the ministry struggled to feed the regulars because there were fewer volunteers. Ever since I wondered, "Why do we wait until Christmas to be charitable?" People are hungry now.

So this July 4 and throughout the summer, while you're having BBQ and picnics, try to remember that the hungry are in greatest need this time of year. Community pantries start to get empty, school lunch programs are suspended because school is out, and people just "forget" because we're so tuned to giving to others during Christmas.

Here's a thought - especially for BMIFC chapters looking for a philanthropic project: how about a Fourth of July food drive for a local pantry or soup kitchen or shelter next year. It will have a much greater impact than waiting until the Christmas holidays.

In Honor of Lieutenant Nathaniel Tibbets, Jr
my Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather
1740 - 1817
Continental Army of Massachusetts, 1776

The Soldier

It is the soldier, not the reporter,
who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the soldier, not the poet,
who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the soldier, not the campus organizer,
who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.

It is the soldier, not the lawyer,
who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the soldier,
who salutes the flag,
who serves under the flag,
and whose coffin is draped by the flag,
who allows the protester to burn the flag.

By Father Dennis Edward O'Brien, USMC