Songs for the Struggling Artist


Keith Richards Wouldn’t Worry About His Bra

Like magic, a sparkly pink electric guitar came into my life a few months ago. It came to me with no amp, no chords, no case – just its sparkly pink self. And even though I’ve played guitar for a couple of decades, I had never played an electric before. It was a whole new world. I learned power chords, y’all. Before I started messing around with this, I did not even know what power chords were. I think I thought they were just regular chords you played real loud. I was stunned to realize that a lot of what all those big hair guitar dudes were doing on TV was not actually that hard. It was a whole lot easier than the finger-picking folk guitar I was used to, at least.

Anyway – the guitar was one thing. But then I got an amp.

I had been playing plugged in to my computer– and you know, it was cool – but when I got an amp, well, the whole world just cracked wide open. And it wasn’t just the amp, y’all – no. See, what happened was, on the morning my amp arrived and I plugged in, my in-house sound guy helped me set it up. He turned some dials. He nodded when I played some power chords. And then he turned up the volume.

The apartment is small. There are neighbors in every direction. But he turned up the volume to LOUD. And when I played, I giggled with so much rebellious glee. I mean – is this okay? What if I upset someone with my neophyte electric stylings? And then suddenly, I really didn’t care if I upset anyone. I felt the power of playing loud, no matter my skill. I didn’t have to be the best player in the world to turn that amp up and play loud. I could be the worst and still play loud. That’s the gift of rock n roll guitar, in fact. And it is a powerful gift.

This is an experience I want every woman to have. I want every woman to have the opportunity to have her sound amplified beyond other people’s comfort level, maybe even beyond her own comfort level.

At a Shakespeare panel discussion years ago, I remember Liev Schrieber talking about how transformative it had been for him to play Hamlet. He said he thought that everyone should get to play Hamlet once. He didn’t think we should have to see them all, because that would be awful – but everyone should get the chance to do it. I think everyone should get a chance to play Hamlet and ALSO everyone should get a chance to play an amplified electric guitar. (Maybe even at the same time. Go crazy!)

Playing like this is so antithetical to my feminine socialization that it is both challenging and exhilarating. It feels like seizing the reins of male power that I had never had access to before.

There are a lot of reasons that guitar playing can feel like a masculine kingdom to which I am not entitled. For example, I cannot think of a single guitar shop I’ve ever been in that was not populated almost entirely by men. Nor can I think of one where I felt completely welcome. I am always an interloper in male territory in a guitar shop.

But – in discovering the thrill of playing loudly and not particularly well, I felt like I understood something about male privilege that translates across media. A dude playing electric guitar loudly and badly is like a clueless mansplaining dude at a meeting; he’s not worried about how he sounds, he’s just enjoying the power of his amplified voice. And now that I’ve played my electric guitar loudly and badly, I too understand how I might enjoy being bold and loud in uncertain circumstances. It will be harder to turn down my volume than it once was and I may be less concerned about saying exactly the right thing. Turn me up, y’all. I’m ready to rock.

Are you wondering what Keith Richards has to do with this?
Well, the same morning I played loud for the first time, my in-house sound guy took a little video of my amp’s first outing. I objected to this video, when I saw it, as I was still in my pajamas, my hair was a mess and I was not wearing a bra. And then my kick-ass, supportive, rock n roll sound guy asked me, “Would Keith Richards worry about his bra?”

And the answer is of course not. Keith Richards does not care what he looks like. Most guitar rockers are similarly disinclined to style or grooming. And almost all guitar rockers are men who, of course, have no bras to worry about. That is rock n roll male privilege, man. But rather than rail about it, I’m going to turn up my amp and channel it. I might worry about my bra sometimes but whenever possible, I want to access the loud, messy, imperfect soul of a male rocker with endless swagger and a reckless audacity. I want us all to feel that sense. May we all have the opportunity to speak Hamlet’s perspicacious text and play Keith Richard’s bra-less rock n roll lifestyle loud.

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs and more. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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How a Haircut is Different in My Forties
November 6, 2015, 12:47 am
Filed under: feminism | Tags: , , , , , , ,

As a young woman, I got a lot more haircuts than I do now and many of them were terrible. I would never really know how it happened – but I would regularly come home in tears from adventures at the hairdressers. I finally figured out why at my last haircut.

The guy cutting my hair was a 20-something super stylish fella with a brightly colored pompadour. When I told him how short I wanted my hair, he balked. “Really?!” he said. “Yes,” I said.

So he cut it, clearly full of reservations, telling me how my hair would puff up, how it would be too short, etc. And, when he finished, it was not as short as I’d asked for. So, I told him it should be shorter and finally, I got the cut I wanted.

If I’d been my 20 something self, I’d have been sure that this guy, whose job it is to cut hair, knew more than me about what to do with mine. I was susceptible to suggestion, judgment and other people’s opinions, especially in matters of appearance.

But experience has taught me a lot about my hair. I know that it’s straight underneath and curly on top. I know how much shorter it is when it’s dry. I know that it’ll look weird for a minute after I leave the shop until I can get my head under a sink and let it dry naturally. I know a lot more about myself now too and I don’t actually care what a stylist thinks of me. I can’t be bullied into something that isn’t right for me. Not anymore. Not in my 40s.

This is true in a great many other aspects of my life as well. I am much harder to manipulate. I’m not controlled by young men’s opinions. Or old ones’ for that matter. I just don’t give as much of a damn about what people think of me anymore.

I have found my 40s challenging. I have felt acutely the way our culture only values women while they are young and demonstrating a particular kind of beauty. Theatre for a New Audience posted a casting notice asking for a “stunning” woman who “ends up” a woman of 40. This was a stark illustration of the way women my age are perceived.

But dealing with a punk-ass kid who thinks he knows my hair better than I do, I recognized some of the good things about “ending up” as a woman in her 40s. We take less shit. We are harder to manipulate. We know what we want and will take the necessary steps to get it.

That stylist thought I was crazy and a little difficult. (Which is hilarious because I am, by most accounts, insanely low maintenance.) But it’s so nice not to care. Caring what everyone thought of me is always what got me into trouble. It is what made me so easily molded, so willingly manipulated, so off my center so much of the time. It is why I cried after 9 out of 10 haircutting experiences when I was younger.

Women over 40, we’re a little dangerous, I think, in the best way. We’re dangerous because we’re learning how to let go of all the expectations laid on us in our youth. We’re freer. These are the benefits. Aging is hella worth it , y’all.

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



“You are Such a Free Spirit!”
July 29, 2015, 10:31 pm
Filed under: clown | Tags: , , , ,

As I was leaving a dance class I’d attended, an observer of the class said to me, “You are such a Free Spirit!” This surprised me because I do not think of myself in this way at all. Maybe this is because the phrase “Free Spirit” conjures gypsy skirts and patchouli oil with maybe a crown of flowers over long flowing hair. The idea of a free spirit conjures flightiness, and a general disregard of others. So it’s hard to take being called a free spirit as a compliment. In fact, the tone of it made me a little angry. (Which is probably why I started writing this post. . .)

But – I suppose I do enjoy a certain amount of freedom. I recognize that I am rather freer than your average bear. I think what this observer was seeing was my ability to be uninhibited while dancing, to embrace the unexpected and to generally not be afraid to have a good time. All those thing are hard won, though, and have more to do with how I cultivate those qualities than any particular free spirit within me.

I am not so much a free spirit, as a clown. And there’s a bunch of training behind that. I learned how to enjoy myself wherever I can, how to take risks and generally not be afraid of making on an ass of myself. I really don’t mind being the first out on the dance floor. I will happily look like a fool. (Which, I think is really what this observer was implying with her comment. Subtext: “You look foolish!”)

And too, I think, by virtue of just having spent the last 20+ years choosing my own path as an artist, I am basically not afraid to be unconventional.

I see other dancers afraid to make any sound at all when we do the punching movements in this class (even though making the sound makes the movement easier and also feels good.) I see others trying so hard to do things right that they miss an opportunity to enjoy the moment.

Maybe being a free spirit is the same as being a clown, I don’t know. But a clown in a gypsy skirt is still a clown – and I guess I could really take being called a free spirit as a compliment. You won’t catch me wearing any patchouli, though.

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