Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Inter. Viewing.

Where have I been O, Reader?   What happened to the Nobody who is so Indispensable? Well, I tell you-- I've been actually doing a lot of writing.  A little bit o songwriting, sure.  But mostly I've been writing online answers to online interview questions for this recent Bullyheart album PR campaign in which I've been daily engaged since the beginning of the year.  

And what this kind of writing has allowed me to do is go deeper into myself as an artist and also as a person.  So I thought maybe I'd start posting those very interviews here on my blog, since I've found this exercise so valuable.  Plus they include info about me more as musician, which I tend not to focus on as heartily here.  It'll be interesting to see what you might think...

Here is one I did a few days ago for a great online publication called The Prelude Press.  You can check them out here if you like.

I know that you’ve been part of the music scene for quite a while, but Bullyheart is a newer endeavor, so can you tell us a little bit about the band?
Truth be told- there is really no Bullyheart "band" in the classic sense. (Spoiler alert!) I suppose if I liked the word "project" more, I probably would have initially thought to present this music with THAT concept attached.  But I don't, and so, to be true to the sound we created, and to speak to my strong desire to shed my "singer/songwriter" moniker, I came up with a band name, and birthed this album out into the world loosely around the idea that it's a "band" album.  To be honest, the making of this first Bullyheart record came about only slightly differently from my previous four singer/songwriter albums in terms of the fact that I  wrote every song, and again used varying musicians to flesh out the sound.  The only difference is the makeup of the instruments and the intention behind the sound. Whereas on previous Holly Long albums, I've got horn sections, string players, banjo and accordian players, small choirs, harp players, keyboardists, guitarists, etc, etc, the Bullyheart album has only drums, bass and electric guitars.  It's intentionally meant to sound like a late 70's/early 80's classic rock band. However, there are two drummers, two bass players, and three guitar players other than myself which make up the "band" on this album.  So, though it's very much a divergent sound for me- and happily so- I still haven't exactly brought to life my recent dream of putting together and fronting a band.  

Is there a little bit more freedom working with a band, rather than just as a recording artist?
Well, in my dream life there is ;-)  Perhaps that's why I awoke one day in my late 30's realizing that what I wanted to be when I grew up was the lead singer of a rock and roll band.  That's a daunting realization to make deep into the second act of your life.  But, my almost two decades of roller coaster experiences as a solo artist made me yearn desperately for my early days as an actor and comedienne, when I was constantly involved in group work.  Writing, performing, succeeding- and failing- along with my friends and peers.  That one element has been missing from my artistic life as a singer/songwriter.  And now that I've made this "band" record, and yet have not really actualized the "band"- it's a funny thing that's cut both ways.  On the one hand, I love sharing the stage constantly with the guys.  It's such a thrill and a kick to be part of a bigger sound.  I love it.  I love being up there.  Yet, I still haven't delegated or shed any of the responsibility.  So I'm still in charge of everything- writing, booking gigs, doing interviews, coming up with the plan.  I'd love that kind of "freedom" - to be able to NOT have to shoulder all that.  But to date, I don't know what that feels like.

Your album, Antigravity just dropped in December, too! How do you feel people have received the album so far?
You know, I think the folks that have gotten it, for the most part, have really "gotten" it.  I knew I was going to put something out that wasn't for everyone.  (Well, that's really always the case, isn't it, with every artist?)  But I was really trying for something particular here- trying for a record that mostly reverberated with sounds that turned me on when I was young and life was new.  I was going for an empowered female, rock based voice that to me felt seasoned, and yet fresh at the same time.  Because though Debbie Harry and Chrissie Hynde and Joan Jett have come way before me (to name a few significant powerhouse rocker chicks), to me there's still a significant lack of powerful female voice in pop/rock and indie rock music currently.  The trend has seemed to drift over the decades back to the frail, the emotional, the sexualized when it comes to women singing and writing songs in that genre...but not the badass.  And I wanted to be badass.  I think the people who have heard this record and dig that Pretenders thing- that stripped down four piece band thing with a snarly chick at the mic- they like it.

Was there anything that you guys really wanted to be able to accomplish with your debut release?
Well, now that the cat's out of the bag, you realize I have to talk about "me" wanting to accomplish something- not the "guys."  Though the guys who helped me produce this album and the musicians who play with me as the Bullyheart band do totally want to continue and grow and make more music together...  

What I wanted from this record was a new start.  Something happened to me after Holly Long album number four.  It's called "Frequency" and it's a 70's ish driven record in the vein of Roberta Flack and Rita Coolidge.  Lot of soul and vibe and great musicianship on that record.  I was really proud of it, and felt that we all hit the mark really well, from the horn arrangements, to the keyboard solos to the drum sound to the melding of the small choir behind my lead vocals.  It felt like a win.  But it also felt like the end of something. LIke I had reached the end of my journey as a solo writer and recording artist.  I was just tired and done doing it alone, and stretching out every few years for a producer and new set of musicians and string of joints to play scaled down versions of the music we were creating.  I wanted so desperately to JOIN something.  To be part of something that already existed, bigger than myself, or to helm something that would be a group- a band.  I still want that actually.  Though the contours of my life make it a little difficult to accomplish, that's all I really want out of my musical life right now- to sort of live it backwards. To just focus on the music, just for the music, like you do when you're a kid and you're first learning how to make sounds. With no real goals in mind that relate to any sort of professional or industry accomplishments.  And I haven't quite accomplished that- at least, I haven't quite yet found or formed the group that would be me and the other kids playing in the sandbox with me.

The other thing I wished to accomplish with this record- in fact the thing I think I DID accomplish- was vocally embodying a part of myself that had been lacking in my previous material.  One of my co-producers and engineers on this record, David Boucher,  is a dear friend of mine.  He kept prodding me to find that piece of me in my songs that he liked to hang out with at the coffee shop- the snarky smart-ass Holly.  He encouraged me to challenge myself to write more like some of my musical influences in my teens- the Chrissie Hynde's and Annie Lennoxes.  The ladies with attitude and brains.  With something to say, and the ability to say it in poetry along with a kick ass beat. And so I did.  And between David and the other co-producer/engineer, Kevin Harp, who vocally coached me during the tracking of the songs we layed down together, I found help to enact a piece of my inner core, which is very impatient, and bitter, and just kind of pissed.  But also strong.  

I really love the 80’s inspiration for much of the album, too - it doesn’t sound like anything that anyone else has been releasing lately. What were your songwriting influences for Antigravity?
Thnaks for the compliments.  Glad the 80's inspiration is coming through, and that I'm not the only one who feels like this record is a bit of an anomaly right now. That was purposeful.  I would hope my influences are pretty evident.  Number one for this record would be Chrissie Hynde.  In so many ways, her songs, her story, her life are incredibly inspiring to me.  A handful of my colleagues here in LA have worked with her, or are dear friends with her, and I'm six degrees of separation away...I hope one day maybe to be face to face and just share a glass of wine.  Maybe scotch- or organic green tea, not quite sure what her poison is. We share midwestern roots- we're both moms.  She, however, found her voice and path early- barreling through to a hit record on her first try with a band she handpicked after productive years spent overseas as a music critic, cutting her teeth with the likes of the greats over there.  My path has been less illustrious, and less direct... though the folk song inner core of our writing may have some similarities.  My second influence would be the great Tom Petty.  I cannot get enough of that man's simple, yet perfect songwriting skills.  Just a few chords, just the right syllables and the catchy melodic phrase plus the driving beat- he's so direct and universally human.  Also (though you wouldn't hear it as much in this record) Ric Ocasek.  I've always been in love with The Cars.  They probably made up at least three songs of every cassette mix tape I either gave or received from every one of my boyfriends in the 80's.  And then there's Martha Davis of the Motels.  And even, from a balls to the wall singer standpoint- Cyndi Lauper, Pat Benetar, and of course, different genre- Lucinda Williams.  Though from a writing standpoint, I can be more drawn to The Pixies, The Replacements, old Velvet Underground.  I mean- these are only a handful of the vast array of musical influences on me as a kid growing up..everything from Stevie Wonder to Fleetwood Mac, Beatles, Beethoven, Chopin, The Cure, Miles Davis- the list goes on and on.  But for this Bullyheart 80's sound, I'd say the mark was always Pretenders, Petty, Motels, Cars. 

Do you have a favorite song on the album? Was there one that really hit you when you were writing/recording? 
I've guess I've become the annoying artist who considers my songs as all my children.  (Thank you, Tori Amos.) So it's sort of impossible to pick a "favorite" because if any of them do, they all have merit and serve different purposes.  The song that was written the fastest, if that's any indication, was The Pendulum.  Interesting, since it's sonically the tune that probably sits the farthest out of the box than any of them.  But that tune was written straight from the gut, and began with rough draft lyrics written in under five minutes that ended up essentially being the entirety of the song. Bascially, it's a really honest and fairly dark piece about my tendency toward bi-polar emotional issues.  Like Jimi with his "Manic depression's a frustrating mess..."  I'm chiming in on that tip too here.  

"No Pleasing You" was written, and then totally taken apart and re-written to become the song it is now, and I'm happy with the reconstruction.  My intention behind that tune was to take an actual story about an actual person I knew, and get into a Petty writing place with it, and I think I succeeded more along those lines with that song than with any other that I've penned.  

And then of course there's "Antigravity" itself, which I put first, and with which I've titled the record.  Probably the overriding voice of the record itself- frustrated, older, wiser, attitude stemming from disappointment and experience. This song all sprang forth from the initial rhythm guitar riff, which I play on the album, and for me was my way in to the realm of rock.

Honestly- I'd rather the listener pick the favorite actually.  For me, each one of the songs has its own story of how it came to be, and how it fit into the mix...

What would you like listeners to be able to take away from Antigravity?
I would hope that the listener could find common ground somewhere in this album. Like, yeah- I know what she means.  I guess in many ways, I'm always looking for that sort of connection as an artist... but I'd also hope that somewhere along the line, someone listening to this record would simply stop, remove the needle, and set it back at the beginning of the song he/she just heard, thinking - "That song really f*&cking rocked.  I wanna hear that again." 

I feel like it’s really easy for younger girls to look up to female fronted bands, so if there was any message that you’d like to send to other women listening to Bullyheart, what would it be?
This is a good question, and yet hard to answer. Maybe the message that I would give from the podium might be different from those I'm giving in my songs.  Were I to stand up in front of a group of younger women, I'd want to imbue them with the things I wish someone would/could have imbued me with as a younger woman:  Things like- Love yourself.  Trust yourself.  BE yourself and no one else, because you are enough, just as you are.  Embody yourself to the fullest- whether artist or doctor or mother or philanthropist or businesswoman.  Regardless of your career choice or color or creed or sexuality. Whomever you might be- write yourself with that pen that no one else has.  Sing your song with the voice that only you have.  Do it to the best of your ability without shame or guilt.  There will always be fear, but that's what makes the journey worthwhile, is the meeting and living with the fear, which is essential to growth. That kind of living, to me, is the true pursuit.

And yet- in my songs- I am saying other things.  I sing about loss and frailty and being upset and feeling unseen, and I'm angry.  And sometimes confused. And I'm sad for other people, along with myself, and disappointed that life isn't full of fairy tale endings, and that lots of things are just really very hard, or at the very least, mundane.  And I suppose I write these songs not because I think that life itself is a big bummer, or that we all should just give up....But I write these songs at an attempt to record the truth.  My truth.  My experiences, my true feelings- the real inside of how it goes or how it feels.  I'm trying in the way that my heroes of song have done in the past, to skillfully and artfully pen the true human experience, from different angles and through different lenses.  And I'm also doing that, while trying to write a good song that someone would want to hear again, just simply because it sounds cool.

So what would I say?  I'd say- look at me.  I'm in my mid forties.  I've done a bunch of stuff.  I've seen a bunch of things and been a bunch of places, and yet.. I'm still a beginner.  I'm still at the beginning of understanding how to create.  I'd say- life is long, if you're lucky.  And there's no deadlines.  There's just the present moment of every day. Try to be in that moment as much as you can- every day of your life. 

(I'm going to print this out and tape it to my computer screen just to remind myself.  Because I'll need to be reminded.  Maybe tomorrow or next month, I don't know, but I do know I still need to be reminded of the real solid true things- over and over and over again.  That's the truth, Ruth.)

Now that you’ve got your first full-length out, what’s next for Bullyheart? Do you have any big plans for 2015?
Ok, well, I've had a couple great gigs.  Have some more that are appearing on the calendar.  Thinking very hazily about trying to go for some festival spots in the summer? Not sure- I really do need to connect with a booker to get those kinds of things to materialize.  And to date I've never actually worked with a booking agent.  There's already some new tunes penned for the next record.  And since the beginning of the year, I'm knee deep in guitar lessons with a new teacher.  I haven't been in a lesson environment for over a decade now, and it's humbling and incredibly liberating at the same time to get back to basics, and really hone my craft again- in a deeper and more patient way.  I think as long as I hold onto the feeling of being a student, of continual learning and growing, music can and will always stay alive for me.  Even as the outside opportunities fade away for an aging female artist who didn't hit in her early twenties. 

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
First of all, I want to thank you, Prelude Press, for allowing me the space to yammer on.  It's always informative to answer interview questions-- like somehow through the act of the writing itself, you get a little closer to your own truths contained within. Helps to clear the windshield off, as it were.

Also- I want to add how much and how deeply I believe that somehow I've only just begun my musical pursuits.  Despite the fact that I've been writing songs, recording albums and performing for over two decades now, I think as a musician and an artist, I'm only just now getting it.  I mean, truly- as time goes on, one can only get better and deeper at any pursuit, if you're doing it right.  Which means, if you're paying attention and staying fresh and alive to the changes around you and in you.  And though we live in a culture that doesn't want to uphold the value of aging, getting older and accruing more experience in the world just simply has enormous value.  It just simply does.  The older you get, the more opportunity you have to become yourself, to comprehend your own nature (or not!) and to really understand what's important and what isn't.  I'm sad we tend not to discover musical idols unless they're in their teens and twenties.  As if that's the pinnacle of anyone's life--  I'll be 45 this year.  And I've only just begun to rock.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Dancing In The Dark

It was a Quarterflash song.  Jesus.  Quarter. Flash.  I don't think I've said those two words together in over twenty years.

"I'm a gonna harden my heart.  I'm gonna swallow my tears.  I'm gonna turn.  And.  Lea- heave you-hoo here....."

My mom was dancing alone in front of the mirror.  It was early in the eighties.  My dad had recently left the house- they were in the middle of dissolving their 13 year marriage.  Which would put my mother somewhere around 33 tops.  Seriously.  She's 33.  Which means she's pretty hot, with her long auburn brown wavy hair, clad in her tight high-waisted Lee jeans and wine colored silk blouse buttoned down to reveal the chunky 80's gold necklace.

It was cold outside, so she would have been wearing hose underneath those jeans- even indoors. That's just how the midwestern ladies rolled back then.  Still hosiery everywhere.  All the time.  Even in the blistering summer heat.  So I remember watching the way her feet worked on the carpet in those nude hose.  Up and down and twisty turning a little bit on every down beat.  Her hips swaying back and forth in perfect rhythm.

"I'm a gonna harden my heart..."  Gonna pronounced like Own-a with a g.  Big gross dipthong.  The lead singer lilts the end of the word upwards in a little country mannerism, like a tiny high pitched gasp. Blecch.  I hated that song even back then.

And the funny thing was.... I remember being caught in the moment- not because I was so enthralled by my mom watching herself dancing in front of the mirror.   But because I felt TRAPPED there.  Almost forced to watch, since I was probably all of 12 (burgeoning on angsty teen years...knowing everything about everything) and sort of annoyed slash mortified to have caught my mother in this private moment.  Like, how DARE she do this knowing I'm in the house?  Yuck.  This is so embarrassing for me.  This is so narcissistic!  (Most likely didn't have the terminology.  But did have the judge-y emotion.)  Her hip swaying was so effected.  It mirrored the singer's mannerism- there was something that felt staid and inauthentic about it.  Like she was performing. As if someone else was watching besides her.

(Well-  there was.  There was ME watching.  But unbenownst.)

So there I sit perched on the threshold of the opening of my flower-- so to speak-- as a woman.  Watching my mom- very much a full blown, gorgeous, sexy woman dancing alone in a mirror.  To a female empowerment song that's basically saying Fuck You to the guy who just broke your heart.

"Cryin on the corner, waitin in the rain.  I swear I'll never ever wait again. You gave me your word.  Words for you are li--hi-ies..."

So of course, all the confusion of an adolescent caught between her loving, grieving parents splitting up their marriage, comes crashing down on me in this moment.  Because that's of course, my DAD whose words are apparently lies.  Lie-Hies, if you wanna get technical.  My dad who I love so deeply.  My first and foremost figure of masculinity who loves me to his bones also...and whom I know is torn up inside over the decision he made to leave his family.

"Darlin in my wildest dreams, I never thought I'd go...but it's time to let you know...."

Remembering now how "eew- gross" I thought my mom was in this tiny shard of a memory- it only becomes so clear to me just how much that feeling of disgust was constructed in self defense.  To save me from all the scary feelings.  From the actual feelings of deep loss, confusion, fear, powerlessness, worry, isolation and abandonment, that were all rolled up into a big hairy ball in my heart when my father walked out the door.  So much easier to decide my mom was weird and that her vulnerability was weak and therefore kind of icky.

And so begets the first stitch in a life long needlepoint of defense mechanism that I've been seeking to tear apart, lovingly, for the last 15 years or so.

See, this image of my mom flashed itself upon my brain at about 4:21am two nights ago.  You know, that hour or so I'm awake every night, regardless of diet or alcohol consumption or exercise.  That hour of the wolf I've become so well acquainted with.  Those grueling minutes that frequently used to house my full blown anxiety attacks, but since my hormones have thankfully shifted a bit, now have just gone back to displaying the more mundane programme of tearing apart any good feelings I have about my life point by worry-wart point.  This is the time I indulge in feeling completely useless, crappy and unsuccessful in all my endeavors, including just the basic one of being a human being.

So two nights ago, amidst the wee hour, internal ricochet slowly increasing in volume from "you're not doing enough for this or that kid blah blah blah--to-- that deadline will never get reached blah blah blah--to--no one's gonna listen to this crazy new record you've made blah blah--to--you're lucky your husband stays married to you, you're such a mess blah--to--or my GOD you've got to clean out the flipping coat closet like TOMORROW...."

"I'm a gonna harden my heart" blasts through my brain.  With accompanying memory above.

And I feel like my mind is playing tricks on me maybe here....but maybe is also trying to provide a little relief. (Comic relief?)

There's something so great about how life tends to work in this way:  The thing you think is the dumbest, the cheesiest, the least inviting, or the person you find to be so intolerable in a social setting....is many times exactly the thing or the person that's waiting as a key reveal for you to get deeper connected to your true self.  To your humanity and to your self forgiveness and forgiveness of others.

This has happened to me many times.  The new mom who just "annoys me" in my kids' class.. the one who "I don't know honey, she's just so....like...self absorbed or I don't like the way she talks, her laugh is SUPER annoying...."  This is inevitably the woman my husband will remind me, upon hearing rant number 3 about her, to ask out to coffee.  "WHY?  My god are you kidding?  What would we have to say to each other?"  But he's always right.  One way or another- whatever annoys me, sticks in my craw, whatever-- needs to be ferreted out.  Sat down with.  Met.  Allowed to give voice.  And then I always find something there.  I'll find some point of connection. Or a lesson in how I judge my own nature and find it unappealing in the faces of others. At rare times, I've even discovered a really good friend.

So this moment in time reminds me...now that I am in my forties with a marriage and kids of my own... with my own high waisted Lee jeans that I choose not to wear with hosiery...with my own wine colored silk blouses and long brunette hair....I'm reminded to lead with love and forgiveness.  Because now I do have so much more empathy and love for this version of my mother dancing to the Quarterflash song.  Because here in this memory, not only is she my mother, but here in this space and time, she is me.  Propping herself up with this song.  Back when I was 12 and not ready or able to love myself despite or alongside all my vulnerabilities, it was torture to watch my mother navigate her own way through trying to reclaim her mojo after having been "left."

And now that I'm birthing a new voice of my own through this new album I'm putting out, and feeling vulnerable and a little fatalistic about it at times, I need propping too.  I need to find a way to dance in the mirror to some song that makes me feel powerful- witnessing my own self be vulnerable and desirable at the same time.  Human.  Real.

And that's hard.   Because it requires me to unstitch the defense mechanism needlepoint.   It's so safe to appear not to care...not to try...not to dance.

But I must no matter what those voices tell me at 4am.  It's perhaps the only true defense against them.

And now I must leave you with what is arguably the most laughable video ever made.

  Harden My Heart

 Just to remind all of us not to take any of it too seriously.  Especially at 4am.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

True Value Hardware

I encountered two Facebook posts this morning that have compelled me to write.  Which is unusual. Though I regularly glean a lot from my friends' humorous or thoughtful or sometimes incendiary post choices, I don't usually find myself compelled to chime in as a result.

So today is different.

The first piece was an inspirational quote displayed along with a beautiful sort of eastern, yogic-looking visual- the kind I tend to shy away from.  Not because they're not deep or meaningful thoughts, but they feel contrived and manipulative in conjunction with said photos or paintings.  Like the thought itself isn't fancy enough- you gotta catch the fickle eye with a lovely picture.  Well- this thought was, to me, "fancy" enough.  It was arresting and very simple.  It superceded the visual.  And it was posted by a FB acquaintance of mine who, as far as I can tell, NEVER shares these sorts of missives.  Somehow, that gave me pause, lent it credence, and caused me to pay attention.

The gyst was this:

"Humans are created to be loved.  Things are created to be used.  Today we live in a toxic world where things are loved and humans are used."

I may have actually just accidentally quoted verbatim.  It's a good one, right?  It's a melancholy truism.  It's supported roundly not by what we as a society say, but by what we do, how we invest our time and, most importantly, where we put our money.

So that was sad.

The other piece that caught my eye- and kept it- was an article shared by a dear friend about one of my most favorite iconic American actresses, Frances McDormand.  Frances is apparently on the verge of releasing a TV mini-series she has starred in, based on an award-winning set of short stories about an aging math teacher living in Maine with her husband.

Here is the NY Times article should you also be a McDormand fan:

I find the whole thing, tip to toe, to be inspiring.  And not just because here is a kick-ass artist who has made what I consider to be incredible artistic choices along the way, but her choices as a human being and a parent speak to her integrity too.  She talks about having remained out of the limelight for the past decade or so to enable her and her husband Joel Coen to rear their son in a fairly anonymous fashion.  She talks about being turned on by this particular narrative series because it is an accumulation of everyday sadnesses and failures, and not so much a piece that centers around something so extraordinary.  I like that she chooses to shine the light on the mundane.

Lastly, (and I'm sure this was the hook of the article, which is why this theme was woven so deeply throughout) is that Frances has chosen not to change her visage or body in any way to make herself look younger, more attractive, or more pleasing to the screen.  She is 57 and looks like she's 57.  She chooses to wear her wrinkles and grey hairs as a badge of honor.  As a gift that adulthood brings along with what she deems the "card catalogue" of experiences these pieces of our aging physical presence should have the capacity to visually relay.

She talks about how she and her husband have had many spirited (I love that word- such a euphemism for argumentative) conversations about this topic over the years.  Because of course, at 57, many of her - and his-  female friends have had lots of work done.  And this bristles Frances.

And this bristles me!  Yes-- me.  Me- who has sort of slunk surreptitiously into my dermatologist's office a handful of times over the past three years to have small amounts of Botox injected into my forehead. (I hate that one big worry line running down the middle.)  Me- who is already secretly planning on the tiny, ever-so-subtle chin and lower facial tuck when I get closer to my 50's. (Of course, being the ever-so-subtle option, is ever-so-subtlely more money, honey.)  Me who gets my hair regularly dyed twice to three times a year.  Me who has shelled out a pretty penny already over the course of two decades for various creams and facial procedures in an attempt to bring out the "best" me visually I can muster.  Who wants wrinkles and acne scars?  Who loves blotchy cheeks and coarse little grey hairs around their crown?

Oh sigh sigh sigh to it all.  What a complex beast full of hypocrisies am I.

Speaking of, let me get back to the "this bristles me!" part.   Yeah- so I draw my lines in the sand, and don't begrudge any woman her particulars on this subject.  We all have lines.  And many of us do a little or a lot of work on our faces, our bodies, our image in general to try to appear- I believe- continually vital.   Because it's not so much that those of us who choose to change our appearance however way we deem fit want to continue to keep small harems of lovers on the side...frothing over our continued gorgeous non-aging selves.  (Though for a few minutes there, that was a nice thought...)

No.  I think, rather- and I hope I'm not alone in this- the 'work' some of us aging women have done is more about the attempt to remain POWERFUL.  Not powerful like running countries or coups or launching thousands of ships, per se, but powerful enough to remain VISIBLE and therefore RELEVANT to the conversation. And it is THIS (dear Frances and all my readership) it is THIS which bristles ME.

It's not the ruined celebrities I can gawk at repeatedly on my TMZ news feed who have gone way too far down the road of surgery who are the problem.  It's not the bored housewives looking for a little self-esteem boost at the crux of the issue.  Or anyone and everyone in between.  It's the Group-Think...the pathetic false message that we've ALL somehow co-created...which tells us over and over again that aging is no good.  That youth is to be celebrated and obsessively clung to with every fiber.  That there is no beauty in getting older and wiser.  And of course, the biggie-- that death is so scary, we won't think about it, talk about it, process it in our larger cultural collective.  In fact- perhaps if we stave it off visually, maybe death is not going to even happen to us at all!

It's this insanity which I think speaks to the first Facebook quote I discovered this morning.  Where oh where have our values gone?  No- Republican Party, I'm not talking about "Family Values."  (Wtf does that mean anyway?  It's like the word "Wholesome" in commercial speak.  Empty.)  I'm talking about what is valuable.  What is valuable?  People- who are made to be loved- should be valuable.

-- let's not forget animals, plants and all life forms in general, but that's for another post entirely--

People, who, along with all other life forms,  are made to age along the way, and therefore at least have the opportunity to yes, actually get BETTER as they go...because they hopefully learn HOW to love and that nothing BUT LOVE really matters at all--- These people should be valuable.  This is what we should be celebrating.  These kind of people.  These everyday- trying to get by-  trying to simply live in this complex world while somehow maintaining a sane and loving point of view-- people.

Now, I have not yet seen Frances McDormand's new series. Nor have I read the books upon which they are based.  But I have an inkling that somewhere in that television piece might exist some work of actual value - everyday art which shines a light on that true chunk of gold which should be valued.  And seen.  And thought of as vital and relevant to the conversation.  I am excited to watch, and grateful for those like Frances, who occasionally have the microphone and who choose to use it elegantly for purposes of truth.

God bless all of us aging souls.  (Whatever "God" means to you.)  God bless artists and those in all walks of life attempting to stand up against that which is untrue- namely, Youth as mistaken for Timeless Beauty, Age as mistaken for Loss of Value, and Things as mistaken for Objects to Love instead of valuing Life and Love over all.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Fire It Up! (or To Failure - Part 2)

There's another verbal tool that my ageless trainer Michael over at the gym has used on me numerous times.  Aside from, as of late, training my muscles "to Failure"- a phrase for which I've found much use in my daily life beyond training.  He's got another catch phrase which seems equally as universal outside the gym as well as in.

In fact, I've heard him use it from way across the room on other clients many times- me sweating it out on the sadistic abdominal slide machine wringing another few crunches from my sweaty, trembling torso, already feeling as though we've hit "To Failure" about two sets ago.  Some other weary brave middle-aged soul will be leg lifting or bench pressing or squatting or balancing on the ball some fifty yards away from me.  Michael's urgent baritone will float over the incessant pulsing club mix to land in my ears with precisely these three familiar key syllables:

"Fire it up!"  

He says.  "Fire it up!"  To my fellow sufferer on the other side of the gym.  Fire it up!  To me and my aching belly muscles.  Fire it up, Holly!  

Fire. It. Up. 

Fire It Up is usually the phrase which emanates from Michael's mouth right at the moment when you (or more precisely- me), the suffering gym client, have thought you've reached your end.  
You're done with this set.  
You're done with this machine.  
You're done for today. 
You might be done with this whole "work out" thing forever, because in this particular moment you're starting to entertain the notion that you might actually be done breathing.  Or at the very least you're done having your breakfast safely locked INSIDE your stomach.

Done.  You think.  DONE!  I'M DONE!!  

And that's when --

"Fire It Up!"  Makes its move.   And it's weird, because it's an awfully powerful tool.  I can't quite put my finger on it, but when Michael barks the FIU, whatever food that was making its way up my esophagus on its way to splurt itself out upon my tight black spandex pants settles right back into my stomach.  My lungs which a split second ago were unable to process any more of that essential oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange, suddenly remember how to accordian themselves back to life.  And my muscles find some teeny little violently shaky ability to do one... more...two....more...---  three! ..may...be...even..F-O-U-R-- MORE repetitions.  

And then I really know what "To Failure" feels like.   And you know what?  It feels-- AWESOME.  Because I did it!  Because I fired it up beyond a place where I thought I could.  I lit a cauldron from some deep inner place from beneath the bottom of my belly and from there I gathered strength to keep going.

Now.  There's some obvious broader life uses for this Fire It Up beyond lifting and stretching and pulling dull grey weighted contraptions over and over again with my muscles.  It seems almost didactic to further explain.  And yet- somehow- the simple physical act of having my body Fire It Up from somewhere when I thought there simply was no fuel left is so incredibly empowering.  It informs the mind.  Beyond all those self help books talking about finding your Inner Fire.  Or beyond even listening to the most powerful speaker- your favorite band- or reading bone splittingly gorgeous poetry.  

It feels oddly more like when I'm singing a song.  And it's going really well.  Because that song suddenly becomes something that's inside and outside of me at the same time while I realize that as singer and human and creator, I am merely a channel or a vehicle for the song itself to be birthed.  Because its not mine and I'm not it and we don't belong to each other, we're just intertwined for a moment.  That's life force.  Life force firing it up!


Recently I've noticed this young woman who's now diligently at work every time I saunter in to the gym.  She- like me- is always in the pit with the boys.  There's no dewy half hour on the stationary bike for this girl.  No few easy bicep pulls on the machines in the corner.  No- she's in the middle of it.  Pushing it HARD.  Heavy weights.  Precise motions.  Barbells.  Spotters.  It's impossible not to notice her-- she's beautiful and naturally blonde and beyond toned in a way that for awhile now has seemed otherworldly to me.  So much so that I finally asked Michael, after hearing him bark a few "Fire It Ups" her direction last week, What is she training for?  She must be training for something specific...

"Yep.  Miss World Fitness- 2014."   He said.

I swallowed.

"Ah--"  I squeaked out.  "Well- thank GOD.  Because if she wasn't I was just gonna go home and have to shoot myself in the head."

Because I come in here feeling pretty decent about my damn middle-aged self lately.  About the 10 pounds less that I now weigh.  About the slightly more toned triceps and abdominals and backs of the thighs.  I feel a little bit closer to that 20-something body I remember taking so much for granted back in the swing of the lurid psychedelic-hazed 90's.  So, then to emerge into my place of Re-Awakening Spirit and to witness this creature of perfection, can sometimes be a bit of a downer.  When what you want to do is gaze rather approvingly at your own reflection in the endless walls of gym mirrors and not see Her 20 feet away from you - 6 reps longer, 50 pounds harder, immovable heart shaped ass better, making your small improvements appear crushingly invisible.

So thank god she's working her guts out for SOMETHING.  Something actual and specific and real. Not just to make me feel inferior.

Funny thing is- once I found that out about Her, rather than making me feel worse about myself, the opposite thing happened.  She became yet another source of gym inspiration for me.  As I started to quietly pay a bit more attention to Her workout, and to Michael's coaching of Her, I realized that there wasn't actually THAT much of a difference between us.  Well-- at least not on paper.   

She too is constantly being reminded to Fire It Up! ( Of course, she has more opportunity to hear that seeing as Michael informed me she's there three times a DAY for a few HOURS at a time, and I'm excited to make it to the gym three times a week for 45 minutes, if that.)  She, like me, also scrunches her adorable little freckle-sprayed nose up into a crazy inverted slinky shape when, like me,  she's close To Failure on her leg lifts.  She, like me, is also concentrating like the world depended on it when balancing 75 pounds on her back while doing set after set of perfect leg squats.  (I do quite imperfect squats with no barbells balanced atop my not-so perfectly toned shoulders, just for the record.  Nor leg lunges.  Not yet.) 

In other words,  though,  I've seen Her a lot lately, and, like me- this girl has purpose and goals and this girl SWEATS for them.


As some of my readership may know, I am about to birth a new album out into the world.  An album that has taken me the better part of two years to get close to finished. This record is certainly not the end-all, be-all....it is not anywhere near the "Pretenders-like" set of songs I am forced to tout it as, for promotional PR purposes.  But I am proud of it.  It is a band record, with a clean, early 80's sound and it has kick-ass drums and bass lines and my voice, alongside the usual soulful tonality,  sounds sassy and angry here and there. To date, I don't think I've been able to successfully accomplish that very alive, thriving piece of my personality in any of my previous recordings.

Plus, I produced this one.  Alongside my two engineers who each recorded and mixed about half of the material- I helmed this ship.  A first for the Holly.

So it's a big deal for me.  

And I'm now desperately in need of a little portable Trainer Michael on my shoulder at many points in my day outside of the gym.  I'm so in need of a more consistent "Fire It UP!" in my ear over and over.  A reminder that at those (way too frequent) times I feel I've hit sort of rock bottom in terms of having no energy to promote....no mo' mojo to keep doing the parts of record making that I so don't love, namely the promoting of the thing...  that's when I need my Michael.  

That's when I need my sweaty torso to just screw courage to the sticking point and tell my brain how to make that fucking phone call to the club booker.  Rehearse that song one more time.  Call that guitar player again. Schedule that rehearsal.  Compose that mass email to send to all your fans telling them when and where... Edit that web page. Tweet that tweet.  Record that new demo.  Promote that FB page post.

And by the way, go to the grocery store because we're out of toilet paper and you better put the potatoes in NOW or dinner won't be until 8:30 and you have to make Back To School Night and don't forget Truman needs to finish that last worksheet for tutoring tomorrow and you need to help Josephine find that book that she thinks she left at her friend's house and the dogs haven't been walked since yesterday afternoon and the kitchen's a mess.... and on and on and so on and....


My new mantra.  I hope maybe yours too.  It is true that in the grand scheme of things- in the Big Picture, as it were....my therapist is constantly reminding me "There's nothing to do.  There's nowhere to go."  Meaning, stop driving yourself crazy with the consistent neurotic voice on repeat that you're never doing enough or being enough or good enough, blah blah.

But.  Some things ARE actually worth doing.  Even if they're not huge things like starting companies and launching charities and birthing babies and winning awards and changing the world.  

Maybe these little things that bring us To Failure.... that challenge the very notion of our own capacity and what we're capable of...THESE are the things that are worth doing.  To whatever end.  God knows I am NEVER EVER EVER EVER going to be running for anything like Miss World Fitness 2014.  Holy Shit.  Nor am I ever going to run for the Senate, most likely.  I'd be shocked if I made it to some sort of local PTA position....

But what I will continue to strive to do- as I try over and over again to Fire It Up from the deepest core of myself- is to challenge my own sense of the possible.  

Maybe right now I don't exactly believe I could ever be as influential or life affirming with my music as the likes of the greats like Chrissie Hynde, or Cyndi Lauper, or Martha or Patti or Annie or any of the powerful rock divas of our era.  

But then again, what do I know?   A few months ago, I couldn't conceive of being anywhere near a size 6 again.

And I've only just begun to bench press.

Fire it up, Hol.  Let's GO

Thursday, September 25, 2014

To Failure - Part 1

I thought all I wanted to do was drop 10 pounds.   Maybe 12.

After all, I could not even begin to fathom how these loathsome things had crept upon my frame in the last 8 or 9 months.  And yet- they apparently had-- if I was to trust something as lame and catty as my SCALE.   Well, and to be honest- my pants.  My pants never had appeared to have it in for me, as did my fatuous bathroom scale, and so I did tend to believe them more readily.  And my pants were very clear on the matter of me having gained weight.  They obviously didn't like me anymore.  They did not make me feel hot and sexy as they had at times in our mutual past- rather they chose to sort of splat themselves upon me, sharply cutting in and awkwardly jutting out in weird places they never had before.  Groaning and seam splitting as I walked down the stairs.  Or god forbid, chose to sit down in a chair.  They were not happy at all, the pants.

See, it was roughly early April.  And after finally listening to my miserable pants, and having stepped on a scale for the first time in 8 or 9 months, I had just finished the following two weeks in raging denial.  First, I forced my doctor's hand into giving me a test not only for low Thyroid (which can cause lethargy, depression, inexplicable weight gain...etc)  but I made her write a scrip for the holiest of Thyroid issues.  She had me tested for Hashimoto's disease.  Which is basically a rare autoimmune disorder that causes your body to attack the thyroid and therefore deplete itself of its ability to produce hormones in balance.   See I was CONVINCED this twelve-ish pounds that had (so suddenly!) appeared upon my body had to be some sort of hormone disorder throwing my metabolism all out of whack.  Because god knows, I wasn't doing anything differently.  (So I thought. )  I wasn't OVEREATING. (So I decided.)  Hells bells, I wasn't even DRINKING any more than usual! (So I convinced myself.)

Well the truth will set you free, as my third Thyroid and first and only Hashimoto's blood tests eventually did for me.  They stated most factually and inarguably that I did not have anything close to a Thyroid issue.  In fact, exactly the opposite was true.  My numbers were GREAT.  Staggeringly AMAZING.  I was exactly where I needed to be Thyroid wise.  Sigh.

So, next, I turned my laser vision on to GLUTEN.  My next step in the drop-those-12-pounds-that-god-knows-how-they-landed-upon-me-in-the-first-place campaign.  Now,  I had already started cutting out gluten in my diet- because that's one thing that almost all healthcare professionals agree will help mitigate Thyroid symptoms.  So having already cut some of my very favorite foods from my diet successfully for a few weeks since I had been convinced I was Hypo-thyroid, I decided to sally forth.  Seeing as I liked some of the other results.  No, I had not lost any weight per se, but that surely was to occur anytime soon-- as everyone told me it would.  Oh my god- said my friends.  Said the paid info-mercials. Said anyone anywhere I perused about the internet vis a vis gluten intolerance. Stop eating gluten and the pounds will just MELT off!! (btw- any one who tells you pounds will "melt" off your frame- you need to stop speaking to immediately. Thay ain't no sech thang baybee.)

Course, the pounds did not MELT off.  In fact, in those first weeks after discovering I had no Thyroid issues, and yet staying religiously off gluten-  I actually GAINED a few pounds.  I was now up to a whopping 15 I wanted to viciously carve off my thighs and butt and upper arms and stomach. Looking back now I can see that though avoiding gluten is very much still a good thing for my body, substituting high fat or sugar for the gluten is not.  (Sure- I'll have THREE hot dogs since I'm not eating any buns!  For heaven sake- yes!  Bring on that huge ice cream sundae since I had not one teeny inkling of bread or pasta or beer today.  In fact, let's throw in some chocolate sauce AND whipped cream!  No gluten in either of those!)

It had been two months since I had seriously started "dieting" and thinking every day about the scale and the unhappy pants.  I hadn't lost a thing.  I'd gained three pounds.  I was as unhappy and discouraged and pudgy as ever- still avoiding a large portion of my closet.  Still hoping and praying that maybe there was something just plain wrong with my chemistry because this had never happened to me before.  Up until now, I had basically enjoyed life as a thin, relatively in-shape human with a brisk metabolism and a spotty, though overall healthy exercise ethic.  Anytime I'd gained a little. certainly in my twenties I just went running a couple more times than usual that week and bing!  All gone!  In my thirties, I went on a serious diet and serious training program and lost the baby weight from number two in about six weeks total.   And wasn't I still going to the gym now?  And back on a different, but still "serious" diet? Avoiding so many delicious foody foods and not eating Gluten at ALL?

There was a lot of blubbering to my husband about all this nonsense.  There was a lot of feeling incredibly sorry for myself.   And more to the point, there was a lot of hyper-extending this inability to lose weight into a bigger picture.  I was throwing this frustration into the big net that threatens occasionally to scoop up my entire life and psyche into it.  This big net is called something like "Holly Is Powerless To Do Anything."

My dear husband listened to my blubbering.  Again and again.  Held my hand.  Told me he understood and he loved me.  And then he said- Hol.  You need to get off your butt now.  You need to call Michael.

Michael was my trainer at our local gym back in early '08 when I had hit this similar wall (though not nearly in such a biblical way.)  Michael helped bring me back to myself in February of 2008 by teaching me how to truly and actually DIET for the first time.  Meaning- no gimmicks.  No short cuts or pills or juicing or only eating avocados and lemon ....just dieting.  Counting calories.  And working out every day.  So it was math back then.  Less (and better) calories in.  More calories out.  Math.  Every day.  That's it.  That's all there is in the whole Weight Loss Conundrum.  I'd learned it before - and it had worked for me- and I was to learn it again.

Though this time felt different.  This time felt bigger.  More monumental- more endemic of my life as a whole.  I think as I picked up the phone - finally - that pathetic day after the encouraging pat on the back from Jeff and the ensuing two more hours of gnarly mucus-producing self pity in which I engaged.....I think I knew that Michael was going to be my ticket not just to losing some weight this time around, but to something a little bigger.  Something that involved other areas of my life-- like feeling useful and hopeful.  Like feeling I had anything left to offer at all.

Little did I know that was going to come from a crap load of new horrible stomach crunch routines, agonizing leg squats,  and humiliating giant leap lunges across the gym floor.   For days and days to come.


So that's how it all began.  This time around.  Early May- I'm back in the gym I'd still been going to sporadically for six years since my initial successful diet.  My old pal Michael--who does not age one day, not one minute, of his perfectly fueled and hydrated, continually physically engaged life-- next to me at the machines.   Only this time, instead of talking about numbers -- instead of diligently counting my reps to equal up to three perfect sets in tandem on each machine- each side of my body....there's different language here.

And that phrase, as Michael keeps trying it on me over and over again- that phrase is "To Failure."

To exercise To Failure means- he encourages me not to count reps.  He encourages me instead to get my form perfectly perfect on each exercise-- to be anally diligent about this-- because we are targeting the exact areas I would like to take a machete to.  And apparently in order to see results in these areas in some way that doesn't involve a lot of blood and tissue loss with sharp knives, one must be incredibly diligent about the form.  AND in order to see results fastest-  one must bring one's body "to Failure."  (I could wax layman-like about how the targeted stress on your muscle causes some sort of acidic break-down that can be repaired with eating high protein and which causes your muscle to thereby SUCK the surrounding fat from itself in order to replenish... causing something which may look a little bit like melting fat off your body thereby exposing the lean six pack underneath.  yadda yadda. But I'm not sure I really understand it.)

So some sets of excruciating leg lifts on the abs balancer produce 16 or 18 reps (generally the first in the set.)  Whereas others produce 6.  I found I could leg press at 80 pounds - after having done three nauseating sets of squats- 40 on my first set.  And barely make 15 by my third.  So the math became different.

Instead, it all became about pain, really.  Good old fashioned positive pain.  Weary, luggy. grey ache kind of pain- not searing- tear your liver out of position sort of pain. ( To be clear. ) I would leave these first few sessions barely able to stumble the three blocks home from the gym.  Not because I had torn or dislocated anything.  But because I had worked my body "to failure" for the first time ever.  Because I REALLY wanted this.  And I was really willing to do whatever it took to get there.

The first month or so of this kind of training brought about a lot of naps in my life.  A lot of waking up in the morning to aches in muscles I had forgotten I had.  A lot of counting calories and saying no to the bacon the rest of my family hungrily chomped in the morning.  Endless lunches with salads and low calorie soups.  Guiltily pouring only 1 glass of wine for myself at night (because why oh why could I just not forgo it entirely!  Well- that's a whole different blog post.)   And then of course the first hideous five weeks of LOSING NOTHING.  Kicking myself in the ass three to four times a week and seeing no difference on that mother effing son of a birch tree scale.  (Because I was building muscle alongside dropping little bits of fat, so the actual weight differential was nil.)

But then came the beautiful morning when I finally stepped on the scale to realize that TWO whole pounds were gone.  And then in another couple days it was THREE.  Undeniable.  I had already started to feel a little different in my clothing.  My pants were definitely less upset with me.  I was entertaining the notion of trying on some pieces that had been tucked away in my closet for months- perhaps never to be seen again.

But most importantly- I was ecstatic and totally encouraged.  I was riding gorgeous gold tipped waves of endorphins because  I had proven to myself that I could DO something.  Which may sound really odd and a little sad to some of you more accomplished, Type A,  sturdier souls who were born into this world and kinda figured it out pretty quickly.  It might seem sort of pathetic and small that a woman of my age, who has found herself living quite a cush life and is quite grateful for the lovely challenge of being able to parent two souls, and lucky to be able to diddle around on instruments and sing ditties for a (paltry) living... would find such solace, would take such pride in the "melting away" of a couple of pounds off of her body.

But thems the facts.  These first few pounds gone were so huge for me.  So empowering and grounding, that the rest of the initial 10 pounds that I've lost so far, felt like they came off in no time at all after that.  Bringing my muscles to failure- as much or as little as I could do relatively consistently a few times a week- in a few months changed my body.  Not so much that I'm anywhere near being in the running for Fitness Queen of California 2014, but enough that I saw a different me that brought to mind (and closet!) the lithe, ready-for-anything girl I felt like in younger days.  And so changed my outlook.

Now I won't pretend that it's all been wine and roses for me since then.   Hardly.  I'm a complicated human, living in complicated times, with a complicated set of terms I'm constantly trying to negotiate with myself here.  But.  2014 has brought for me the knowledge and self-satisfaction of having done at least one thing that's visibly, measureably made a difference.   Which means maybe I'm not such a huge fuck up after all.  Maybe when I really really put my mind to it-- when I'm willing to ride the ride "To Failure" there's actually success at the end of it somewhere.

But that's for Part 2.

(Thanks for being my readers.  I am so fond of you all for taking the time out of your busy lives to engage in me gazing at life through the lens of my belly button.   I promise the second part soon.)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Only The Lonely Can Play

Oh the 80's-- The illustrious 80's.  That decade of overly sincere movie rock anthems, acid wash, and Gordon Gekko greed.  I became a teenager in the 80's.  I lost my virginity in the 80's.  I got drunk and stoned for the first time in the 80's.  I wrote my first song.  First appeared on stage.  Met and dated my (eventual) husband, moved to California, got my first job, cultivated my first big dreams, made some of my first biggest mistakes, and got really passionate about life in the 80's.  I also for the first time became equally depressed in the 80's.  The 1980's was my decade to begin myself.

And so it's really been no huge surprise that after writing and recording four albums, each one honoring different musical influences and musical memories of my childhood,  I would land back on about -- 1981.  This most recent rock project I've been swimming around in for well over 18 months now (the longest it has taken me to complete a record) sits squarely in the Cars/Pretenders/Tom Petty sound bin ranging between about 1979 through 1982.  And now as of very recently- I've had to add another name to that list since I've realized she's clearly another early 80's influence of mine: The Motels. Or, more specifically, Martha Davis and her Motels.

I've been lucky. These last few months I've gotten to work with a handful of the musicians who make up the latest incarnation of her band.  Martha and The Motels are still very much writing and recording.  She is still kicking at the ripe old age of 60 something-- hip, happening grandmother that she is.  Her lead guitarist and two of her drummers have been working with me on the second half of this molasses-moving record of mine.  And I certainly tip my hat to these men.  Because without them in my current musical world, I don't think I would have landed so heavily upon how much Martha Davis and her music now resonate to me- and this particular project of mine. 

The thing is this.  While immersing myself in Motels material I'd only been vaguely hip to back in my early teens, I began to listen in a different way.  As the light bulb got turned on inside of me for Chrissie Hynde and Patti Smith rather late in the game, so it illuminated for Martha as well.  At the behest of my newest musician peers, I dug deep into what YouTube had to offer and got to experience in all its grainy detail many key moments from old live Motels shows.  Martha slightly drunk and drugged, cigarette dangling from her lip..sometimes guitar in hand..sometimes whiskey glass- pouting and crooning her sultry, boozy melodies atop her band's gloriously sloshy synth pads and melancholy guitar lines.

Suddenly I discovered another famed kindred spirit in my sand box.  And I sprouted a wee bit of a crush on the sloppy-haired, red-lipped, silken-bloused powerful rock n roll harlot queen that Martha embodied on her stage.  I started to understand that this was yet another influential diva for me to dive into.  I studied the way her mouth wrapped around her words.  Like watching Chrissie navigate her sassy way onstage through the veil of her raven bangs,  I was immediately struck by Martha's blousy way of holding everything- barely- together onstage and how vulnerable and beautiful and tawdry it all looked.  How fucking hard core rock and roll.

So needless to say, when my co-producer/engineer Kevin (Martha's ex-drummer) invited me to see the Motels headlining the auspicious 50th Anniversary of the Whiskey A Go Go, I was thrilled.  Thrilled like I should have been as a teenager to go see my idols in person- which as a teenager, I didn't do. 

Perhaps making up for lost time, I am just now truly cultivating the deepest wounded teenage punk Holly in her 40's.  The Holly who should have slipped out more often in the middle of the night to go see local punk rock bands at Chicago's Cubby Bear.  The Holly who perhaps would have been better off spending less time cultivating her 4.0 GPA in high school, and more time cultivating her power chords on the electric guitar. 

Anyway.  No time like the present- as Martha Davis was to remind me late night Sunday in mid January 2014, at The Whiskey.  No time like now. To be here and present and working any old yearning teenage version of myself, or wise old crone, or sultry mid twenties version.  No time like now to bring them all to bear in one big swell of a musical presentation replete with dusky pink and blue stage lighting.  And of course, since it was the Whiskey, and this was the Motels, after all-- lots and lots of smoke machines.

But I'm jumping ahead.  

Because the night began for me by picking up my pal Kevin, and driving through eerily empty Sunday night streets  on our way to the Sunset Strip. After digging valid CA ID out of my wallet (really?) and getting branded on BOTH hands with the nearly indelible, lasts-you-a-week, club stamps (again- really?) we saunter in.  Brief look around the first floor indicates that one of the various opener bands is still roundly in mid set, so we make our way up the smokily lit stairwell toward the backstage entrance door.  

I am struck right away by two things.  Number one, remembering that the last time I was in this joint, George Bush the First was most likely president.  And number two, how little had changed since that time.  The decor looked literally the same- and surprisingly well-preserved.  Not so the overly tanned and wrinkly retired strippers who mingled with the lusty Jagermeister girls clad in their metal studded Playboy bunny negligees. Grizzled rock stars with more tattoo than skin had arms slung in equal amounts around both these types of women.  There was a lot of high fiving and fist pumping.  Hey Man-ing and tossing back shots of amber liquid.  It was almost like the 90's and following decade of Naught was a mere flimsy dream, and we were all back here safe and sound somewhere around 1987-  before the music industry was brought to its knees by the internet.  

I am immediately and dizzingly filled with nostalgia and am in desperate need of an alcoholic beverage.  Luckily, that is not far away, for Kevin and I are now headed up the smaller, dingier set of stairs to the Motels' green room where beer, wine and liquor of all sorts lays casually about on every small table, guitar case and faded velveteen armchair.   Here, my friends, is where the Flag of the United States of Cigarettes still flies proudly. Backstage in an aging rock star's green room- the air may be ripe with sprayable freshener, but smoke still pours from the mouths of most every soul in the place.  I hug the wall a bit- clutching my newest friend in the form of a plastic wine glass filled to the brim with some Californian red Cuvee, vintage nineteen who cares.   

I sort of don't want to catch anyone's eye- preferring to take in the scene as a whole like the proverbial  fly on the wall.  A casual observer.  Martha is holding court in the corner over there- clad in a long black coat looking thing...some sort of a silk purplish scarf around her neck, black bowler on her head. (I own a bowler!  Love that thing... )  I can't really tell what she's talking about but she has the air of a warm matronly presence mixed with a little cougar.  Her hair is still dyed jet black, her eye makeup and false lashes still gilding her face...though I do notice Martha's skin moves a bit like fine tissue paper- especially around her eyes and mouth when she offers up her engaging smiles.  She reminds me of the sexier rock version of what my own grandmother looked like in her late 50's. 

My reverie breaks, and after a briefly awkward interaction between myself and some notorious early 90's porn star, a guy in a headset lifts his finger and those of us not in the band whisk ourselves back down the dingy fluorescent lit stairwell to the second story of the Whisky.  Which is now packed with even more tattooed and aging rocker couples.  So we go further downstairs- try to squeeze into a slot at the back of the mass of folks who make up the mosh pit on the dance floor.  The drummer's lovely artist girlfriend who looks (as all drummer's girlfriends should) like an ex-super model appearing effortlessly beautiful in nothing more than a raggedy Tshirt, jeans and dusty suede boots...she has wisely brought earplugs for all those in her immediate vicinity.  I stuff these little waxy globules in my ears and though I know it's the right thing to do, still feel a wee bit curmudgeonly.  

The band makes their way onstage after a sweet but lumpy introduction by (also beautifully preserved) Rosanna Arquette and another brunette writer/ actress clad in her rockery best whom I feel I should recognize but don't....  I am shooed away repeatedly by brawny nightclub bouncers who are apparently trying to maintain a little pathway in the back of the audience for the cameras that will be moving through the crowd, filming the event.  Desperately trying to find a spot where I can place my five foot eleven inch frame and not be continually poked in the back by another testosterone enhanced human being in a tank top, I make my way back to the first floor bar. Ah. Space back here.  Can't see so well, but that's ok.  It's the Whiskey after all- not the Forum.

The lights come up, the smoke starts whirling, and boom- Martha's on.  Band is rolling.  Keyboard guy intently plunking his array of jazz-esque 4ths and 7ths.  The lead guitar player begins a repeatedly impressive headbanging in time to his own fierce and precise licks.   Drummer is hitting those skins HARD.  Martha's old sax guy is on stage too- already in full swing.  You'd never know he wasn't a contemporary of the rest of the band- his energy is high and strong.  The bass player has a perfect greasy slink to his demeanor.  Slightly apart and yet totally connected at the same time.   The band is rocking.  They sound great.

And then she starts singing.  And it's like- for the second time tonight- I am fully transported back to the 80's.  If I close my eyes, I swear I would be back here in '80 or '81- years before I actually made my trek out west- attending an early Motels gig in support of their first record.  Martha's voice sounds amazingly the same.  Same pout and lilt.  Same throaty gush to it.  Unlike many of her contemporaries, say Joni Mitchell or Sinead O'Connor, whose voices have dropped significantly since their early heydays, Martha Davis' voice sounds almost better than it did when she first began. 

But then opening my eyes is really even more fun.  Because throughout the show I am visually reminded that here is a woman who has kept significant parts of herself going strong- strong enough to strut them around on stage like this.  But it is also hard to keep completely at bay the fact that she is in her mid SIXTIES.  Her body is mostly covered by a scarf and coat.  Her face softened by her black bowler hat.  At some point in the show, a young man in the audience  (obviously a friend) yells at Martha to "Take off yer top!"  She chortles, "Honey- do you know this is my birthday?  And more importantly- do you know WHAT birthday this is?" 

What is undeniable is that regardless of her age- Martha Davis is a rock star.  Timeless and true, balls to the wall, guts out there in her voice, her vulnerability and power raging simultaneously. She was Woman Incarnate for these moments.  Whether strumming madly on her Gibson, or reaching out her arms into the smoky air hovering above us, her audience, Martha was continually inviting you into her world.  Full of steamy one night stands. Of lusty longing and pathetic moping, she was beckoning you to join like a friend and a lover.  Reminding you that we're all merely players in a game rigged against us.  We all have desires that are unmet.  We all sit at home alone on Saturday nights.  And that this set of lonely dreams and burning passions aren't the stuff of shame-- No.  This is the stuff of intense expression and showmanship and LIFE.  

Martha and her gorgeous aubergine voice throbbing like a ripe bruise, reminded me again how to BRING IT.  And that if you're not- what the heck are you doing up on the stage?  No room for guilt or apology.  No need to ask for permission, which you can only give to yourself anyway.  Martha's performance and complete presence for every second of it reminded me that in order to truly honor the forces that work in your favor, enabling you to get up there as an artist, one must be also willing to inhabit it fully and completely.  Regardless of your age.  Your sex.  Your looks.  Your talent.  And all the particulars you may celebrate about yourself or tend to want to hide away.  You bring it all.  And that way each moment becomes transportational for the audience as well as the artist.  This is community. This is art. This is music.

Later on after the show was over.  After the second standing ovation finally brought "Only the Lonely" to our ravenous ears-- Kevin and I wearily climbed the stairs yet one more time to see the guys and say congratulations to Martha.  She enveloped him in her arms- high on the drug of the set.  A bit steamy from the stage lights.  Kevin told me he's been to her 17 acre ranch in Oregon and she's cooked him and the other band members a huge turkey dinner.  You could see that in the way she hugged him- a little bit like a son, a little like a friend.  But also- there was something else in her embrace.  This band of young men that surround her now- as they did back when she was a younger woman- are a mark of her persona.  She needs the beautiful boys around her as any aging siren would.  They keep her vivacious and young.   

And then her attention was turned to me.  The truly lone stranger in the green room that night.  Known only vaguely by a handful of associate musicians-- Martha turned toward me as Kevin made our brief introduction.  "Martha- this is my friend Holly.  I'm working on her album."  And I looked at her fully enrapt and with nothing much else to say - uttered my sincerest "Thank you so much Martha.  Just-- thank you for tonight.  It was spectacular.  You were amazing."  She gathered my face in her hands and planted an enormous fleshy kiss on my lips.  If it had been a graphic novel there would have been an "Mmmwah!" in big red and white print in the corner of the frame.  I don't know how drunk she might have been- but I didn't care.  I myself was not really anywhere near 100% sober.  It was a sweet sort of innocent moment.  Iconic Grandmama Rocker Bear kisses lesser known, but no lesser warm and furry younger Mama Bear...acknowledging their kindred path.  Even if blithely fueled by red wine and bourbon.

I drove back to the westside of Los Angeles that night riding on a weirdly blissful cloud of calm.  Again- like a teenager would having just spent backstage moments with his or her idol.  Martha has only recently become one of my deepest muses- though in truth- as mentioned before I have only recently truly become awash in my true teenage rock fan self.  

Days passed as I spent more and more time gleefully alone in my little office- hours on the guitar.  Bits and pieces of songs swirling around in my head.  Some of them actually clung to the edges and are now recorded Garage Band demos.  Fodder for the next session with Kevin and those Motels members Martha and I share.  

I have her truly to thank for the inspiration.  And for the cheap red wine.  And glorious night of witnessing a flesh and blood Diva of the Rock and Roll Stage.  Would that I be worthy for passage of the baton....