The Goddess Project Documentary (Interview with Holli Rae & Sara Landas)

The BUSThe Goddess Bus

 

 

Hope and Crosby never made a road picture like this!

I wholeheartedly salute two extraordinary young women whom I had the honor to encounter nearly two years ago. They are Holli Rae and Sara Landas, and they have been in the midst of filming their documentary The Goddess Project  for some three years now.  Their credo: “To set our fears aside, and film other women who are doing the same.”

The film’s premise is simple, yet their journey to make it was a life-changing one for them.  It is an intimate look, through interviews, into the lives and inspiration of over 100 women across America, each speaking and baring their souls in a very personal way about their struggles, their inspirations, their contributions, on everything from sisterhood, family, and overcoming fears, to spirituality, aging, body image and sexuality, and speaking in such an honest and disclosing way, toward the purpose of demonstrating real and diverse role models for women of all ages to see and to experience, and to bridge the gaps that have sometimes separated us.

 

THE STORY

In 2012 Holli and Sara left all of their comforts behind, acquired a vegetable oil-powered school bus (decking it out as only goddesses can!) and took a leap of faith, embarking on a remarkable journey across the US in search of women from every walk of life – artists, activists, mothers, sisters, academics, businesswomen, scholars – all eager to share their stories.

I came across these two lights, or they came across me, because Sara’s dad is a friend and colleague of mine.  They came to my home bearing a bouquet of beautiful blooms, and carrying on them their cameras and their great big hearts, and we had a ball talking about life as women, and even shedding a few tears. I believe L.A. was the first wing of their journey, so little did they know at that moment what amazing adventures and encounters were awaiting them.

 “Everywhere we stopped, whether it was at a coffee shop or rest stop,
we were amazed by the number of people who wanted us to meet
an inspiring woman in their life . . . This film presents an intimate look at the
universal concerns that we face as women through groundbreaking dialogue . . .”

 – Holli & Sara

Holli & Sara

10,000 miles later, they had amassed hundreds of hours of footage, and had experienced the time of their lives.   After the honor of being one of their interviewees, I caught up with them recently, in the midst of their post-production tasks, and asked if they wouldn’t mind being on the other end for a moment.

 

*          *          *

ACB:
How did you two meet?  And did the idea for this film come out of your blossoming friendship, or did one of you have the idea first, and through or because of the idea met the other?

H&S: 
We met in the summer of 2008 on a mountain top!  Through sharing stories and making art together, our connection quickly developed into the most co-creative friendship we had ever experienced.  As our bond became stronger and our dreams became bolder, we started meeting so many other inspiring women who were also on a path to pursuing their dreams.  Meeting these ladies and hearing about their unique journeys of self-discovery inspired us to create The Goddess Project.  We saw a need for more empowering stories like theirs in the media and instantly started envisioning how we could share them with the world.  We decided to sell everything that we owned, and launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough money to fund the production of the project.  We promised each other that even if the campaign wasn’t successful, we would still hit the road and find a way to make it work.  Our minds were blown away by the incredible people who showed up to help make this film possible.  Over 100 people from around the world donated to help us start the project.

Then something even more magical happened!  We met a man named Chirp at a music festival, told him about our project, and he offered to give us his vegetable oil-powered bus!  Neither of us had ever been given a gift like this from a total stranger, so this act of kindness absolutely blew our minds.  This incredibly generous gift was a huge game changer.  Then we serendipitously connected with an incredible artist named Michelle Robinson through Tumblr who donated her time to help us transform a little brown school bus into a beautiful, inspiring art car.  So we packed our lives into The Goddess Bus and hit the road with two suitcases, our camera equipment, and no idea what we would find!

ACB:
Well, we love Chirp!   Our angels do come to us in the most unexpected ways, don’t they?  And Michelle’s bus art is just so breathtaking in that powerful Sacred Feminine tradition.

As an artist, myself, I find that the ideas I come up with for a book, or a song, or a painting, are usually coming from a place in my soul of lack or need, a hole to be filled, in a sense.  Where do you think this idea of interviewing inspiring women came from?

H&S:
We felt frustrated by the constant bombardment of the same stereotypical roles of women in the media.  We wanted to see a broader spectrum of female role models, so we decided to put our heads together and come up with a solution!

Movies play a huge role in shaping culture and we need to see more films that empower women rather than perpetuating negative stereotypes and limiting beliefs.  We don’t need any more distorted versions of reality telling us that we are not good enough.  We are perfect as we are, and more films need to encourage that!  We are creating The Goddess Project to remind women of all ages that they are strong, beautiful, and capable of achieving anything they set their minds to!

ACB: 
What were you hoping to discover in talking to women across the country, and were your hopes and expectations answered?   Or did you find that conversations went in completely different directions than you had planned?

H&S:
We wanted to see what women across America are passionate about, and to discover how similar we all are in our differences.  We wanted to know what it’s like to be who they are, and hear about what they have overcome to get there.  We wanted to know what their fears are, what they love about themselves, and what they hope to see and become in the future.

We hoped that we would be able to find women who were willing to be open, honest, and real . . . and we ended up finding over a hundred of them!  We sat with women from all walks of life; at dinner tables, coffee shops, on horseback, and in parks; to talk about what they felt most called to share.   We interviewed artists, mothers, healers, business women, and scholars about the life-changing experiences that shaped them to become who they are today.  We talked about everything under the sun, and almost every interview ended in tears.

We learned that many of our fears and obstacles are the same.  We learned that women across America want to feel connected and understood.  We learned that every story is profound, and that women are ready for more representation.  We learned that women across the country are dedicated to bettering themselves and the world around them.

ACB:
As young women, yourselves, looking for positive role models from just such women as you describe, how important was the older demographic among the ones you encountered?   And what gold did you get from the younger women?   And what ended up being the age range of everyone you interviewed?

H&S:
Well, so much gold!  We ended up interviewing women from the ages of 18-90!  The older women we spoke with absolutely blew our minds because they have come so far and have so much insightful wisdom to share.  The younger women inspired us as well because they were so dedicated to pursuing the life of the dreams.  Each woman taught us something new about ourselves and the world that we had never seen before.  It was an amazing experience to be able to travel from city to city, hearing the collective voices of women and seeing the amazing things that they are doing in their homes and communities!

ACB:
I’ve been following this journey, and it’s been very exciting!   In seeing the clips, the beautiful teasers, in the trailers that you’ve made over the past year, I’ve been especially moved by how you left no social demographic out of the loop.    As an African-American woman, myself, in this society, it isn’t uncommon for me to feel, at times, a bit left out of the cultural conversation.   And, of course, I had the honor of being one of your interviewees!   And I have to say, I was completely struck, as I followed your journey, by how much you were so all-inclusive of the radiant array of women of every heritage, station, vocation, age, and every other social orientation.   Can you please speak a bit on that?   Was it conscious on your part, or were you just walking this path with hearts so open that . . . well, let me let you finish the thought.

H&S:
We embarked on this journey with open hearts and planned to interview as many of the most diverse women as we could find.  We definitely made a conscious effort to be all-inclusive when it came to our interviewees because we know that all women out there are seeking inspiration and in most of the media, women, especially those of color, are lacking representation.

As we made our way across the country, we ended up finding women in the most serendipitous and magical ways. Initially we reached out to them through the internet and by word of mouth, but as we traveled from city to city our brightly painted bus became a magnet that attracted amazing women everywhere we went!  At each destination we were approached by women from all walks of life who felt called to share their stories.  Having the opportunity to connect with all of these unique women opened our minds to so many different perspectives, and as we got to know each of them we also realized just how similar so many of our fears and obstacles are.  We learned that although each of our individual journeys looks so different from the outside, there are similar threads that connect us all.  We are so excited to weave this beautiful web of women’s stories together, so that we can bridge the gaps that separate us from one another and inspire people everywhere to create positive change in their own lives!

ACB:
Please talk a little, if you don’t mind, about some of the more unexpected things that occurred on your journey.  Any interesting hurdles?   Especially considering that you were living on the most menial of resources.

H&S:
We both love camping and road trips, so going into the journey we weren’t too worried about life on the road!  That said, the reality of living for 6 months in an amenity-free bus (sometimes in 100 degree heat) ended up being a lot more challenging at times than we had anticipated!  Most of our showers consisted of baby wipes and Dr. Bronner’s, and we spent a lot of time peeing in cups if there wasn’t a bathroom nearby.  We quickly learned how to live off just the bare necessities, but also discovered how many amazing people there are out there ready and willing to help you out in a time of need!  One night, we found ourselves trying to get some sleep in our bus in New Orleans when it was still blazing hot outside and we were in a bad part of town, so we had to keep the windows shut.  We lay there pouring water on ourselves, wondering if we could survive the night in that kind of heat.  Suddenly there was a knock at our door.  It was a woman we had met earlier that day who insisted we come stay with her.  We followed her back to her place just down the street and had a beautiful night’s sleep in her air-conditioned den.  Everyday we faced new hurdles as we stepped into the unknown, but we stayed open and our intuitions always led us right where we needed to be!

ACB:
Was there anything that scared you about taking on a vision as monumental as this?    Doubts, at any point, about the leaps of faith you were taking, not only to go on this journey, but the leaps of faith in each other?

H&S:
From the very moment we made the decision that this is what we were going to do, we committed wholeheartedly to it!  We did have our fears about taking on something this big, but we made the choice that no matter how things unfolded, whether we rallied the support or not, we were going to make this film happen!  Three years into the journey and we can definitely say we had no idea how much work was going to go into bringing this film to life, but everyday we work together to keep our vision strong.  When one of us is feeling doubtful or overwhelmed, the other one is always there reminding us of the importance of this project and why we have to keep pushing forward!  Taking on something this big is a lot more manageable when you’re sharing the weight with your best friend!

ACB:
SERIOUSLY amen!   Who have been your personal heroes, who have helped to build you into the strong young women you are today?   Either personal, or in history?    And why?

H&S:
One of our personal heroes is Eve Ensler.  From her playwriting to her global activism, she is a force of nature!  She is a woman who has devoted her life to being a voice of change, and an example of how instrumental just one person can be in changing the lives of so many!  We were lucky enough to have her reach out to us when we were about half way through the journey, and her organization One Billion Rising became a producer of the film!  We are so honored to have her on board, she is such an inspiration to us!

ACB:
Eve Ensler is truly a special being on the planet.   You’re definitely speaking my language.  So, what is ultimately the legacy you’d like to leave?

H&S:
There is this great quote by Albert Pine: ” What we do for ourselves dies with us.  What we do for others and the world is immortal.”  We want to use what little time we have in this life to use the talents we have to create art that helps raise the consciousness on the planet and empowers others to overcome their fears and live the lives of their dreams!

ACB:  
You two are an inspiration, and the world needs to know about The Goddess Project.  I have felt incredibly humbled to have had some small part in this, and to have been able to watch it grow beyond all expectation, as your journey unfolded.  I raise my proverbial glass to you two bright beacons for change and liberation, Holli Rae and Sara Landas.  Thank you so much for chatting with me.

*          *          *

THE GOAL

The larger goal, of course, is the film itself, and everything that it stands to shift in our consciousness.  But the immediate goal is one that can use our help.  Holli and Sara have a Kickstarter campaign in the works, to help raise enough money to complete the post-production on a film that is truly important and needs to be out there.   If you’re feeling even the slightest bit philanthropic ($1 even!), I urge you to consider being a part of this game-changing, transformational project.  You honestly couldn’t choose a nobler investment.   The deadline to raise their pledge is Friday, Aug 22, 2014, 3:33 PM PDT.

If NOTHING ELSE, please take 4 minutes to watch this newest trailer, and I defy you to not be inspired.

http://youtu.be/ttkwVO_tUQk

 

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Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog. Continue reading

A Simple Life

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The life I used to want . . . or perhaps the better way is to say the life I thought I wanted? . . . was a grand one.  A life of being celebrated, and documented, because of what I’d put into the world.

Maybe it’s age and the wisdom that hopefully comes with it.  Maybe it’s disappointment, and choosing to redefine a goal instead of wallowing in the failure of an old one.  Or maybe I just lost my appetite for grand.  But today there is a very different life that I want.  And it comes closer to a renunciant’s path, to Zen, and to nature, than ever before.

Let’s take Oprah Winfrey for a minute.   I think the legacy that she has carved for herself is a noble one; that of being the spokesperson for discovering one’s best self and living one’s best life, and the idea that this has nothing whatsoever to do with financial prosperity, but instead with spiritual prosperity.  Yet the irony can’t be lost on even Oprah that her own financial wealth makes the very kind of zenning, sentient life she purports virtually impossible for her.   A woman with homes (plural) that rival the size and scope of art museums, and require staff.  A woman who has entourages.  A woman who is stalked and hounded and quoted and misquoted by a frenzied culture desperate to crack the code that is the Entity Oprah, because we all want whatever magic has befallen her.   How does one live in that life and temper the monkeys in the mind, never mind the monkeys coming after you?

Yes-Men surrounding you constantly will lose you your touch with reality, and make you operate from an engine of dissociative ego.  And I often wonder to what degree she is aware of that peculiar power (or is it a liability?) and takes full advantage of it. I think back to her controversy with the author James Frey [read about it here, if you're not familiar].  I have my own opinions about what he did, which is perhaps an article for another day, but I have always, and for this article’s purpose, also questioned her role in this, because of the Yes-Men phenomenon that ostensibly makes Oprah incapable of ever being wrong, and gives her permission to wield the ax at her discretion.  Did she really think that what Frey did was morally reprehensible?  Or had she just been personally humiliated, and therefore needed to use her power to humiliate him in return?   Was the punishment that she doled out to him on national television really about teaching James Frey some ethical lesson?  Or just about saving her own face?  And does she even choose to recognize that whether she feels it’s her responsibility or not, she has set herself up to shape the zeitgeist for a lot of America and what America should think about such things?

I only choose to analyze the Oprah phenomenon, as opposed to anyone else out there in the celebrity world, because she is not just a celebrity but a pop culture icon, and there has been a pretty wide swath in my life of envisioning a similar station.   A few years ago I wrote a grief memoir about the death of my mother (not yet published), but what the book is really about is an examination of our relationship; complex to say the least.  One of the commonalities that I examine is both of our desire for fame.  I am an entertainer.  My mother’s life was in politics.  And we both had an appetite unlike anyone else in our family for renown.   There was something just so fundamentally dreadful to us both about living unsung (let alone dying unsung) in anonymity.  And somehow the belief that if only a hundred people were touched by our gift, versus a million, that our gift was meaningless.

I have had many knock-down-drag-outs with my soul on the place my art and my contribution has in the world, and where I place its value.  Is its value in acceptance by the larger public?   Acceptance by the boutique few?   Or is it measured by no barometers at all save my own instinctive sense of personal best?

I think we all know my answer, but putting that into actual action and ownership has been another trick entirely.   Believe it or not, getting older helps.  A lot of delusion gets shed away.  I think I know what kind of famous person I would be, and it isn’t pretty.   Talk about dissociative ego.   Today I am finding more peace with the artist I am, and with the spiritual being I am, while living in a world (“in this world, not of it”) that woos only greatness, as defined by financial station, celebrity, and popularity.  And yes, I’m even finding more peace with that world, as well.

It may perhaps seem ironic to do so, but I’m going to quote Oprah, who, on the cover of this month’s O Magazine, says: “Open yourself up to a brilliant new way of living.”

And so, any longer, here’s what today’s dream looks like.  Here’s what’s truly attractive to my soul, and will be MY brilliant new way of living:

(And let me preface what I’m about to say with this:  I don’t begrudge the Oprahs of the world their wealth, their station, their largeness and their guaranteed seats in the history books and Forbes Magazine.  These choices, and these good fortunes, are not bad ones or wrong ones. I’m just finally finding a different value for my life.)

I want to live simply.

I want to be awakened every morning by the sunrise, and honor a ritual by which I prepare for bed nightly, instead of letting myself fall asleep to the white noise of the television, fighting with everything in me to stave off sleep, just because the waking hours feel like a desperate drug to this addict.

I want to bask in quiet and stillness for at least a few precious moments every single day.

I want to encounter every wonder with the patience and pace required to catch every detail, and I want to write about it, because every one is as remarkable as a Van Gogh or a Stravinsky.

I want to read books and, through them, get lost.

I want to stare at a painting in a museum, and have my life changed.  No, it doesn’t move.  No, it’s not interactive.   No, it doesn’t trend.   There are no hash tags.   No friends.   No followers.  No algorithms.  No memes.  No apps.  It hangs on a wall merely, and blows our illusions out of the water, if we’re canny enough to see.

I want to be canny enough to see.

I want to sing, not for my supper, but for the gods.

I want to earn my wage outdoors, with labor and sweat and sun about me.  I want to plant gardens, and eat what I’ve grown, and work my body like the vessel it is.

I want to forgive my body its daring to creak and ache, and instead awe at its magic to move, to protect, to repair and regenerate, to create, to haul lumber and compose symphonies equally.

I want to open my doors, and meet my neighbors.  And hold children.  And praise animals.  And laugh with friends till it hurts.  And invest in compassion.

I want to watch the rainfall with the same fascination as when I watch a great movie.

I want to abolish from my own brain, my own agitated sense of desperate measures, once and for all (warning: incoming rant), the emperor’s new clothes of this insidious Religion of Prosperity that’s gripping our culture today, and the irresponsible false promise that all we need is a positive mindset and to walk in the world AS IF, for all our problems to be solved.  If only the billions of starving, war-torn, Third World citizens of the earth would stop for one second to apply its principles . . . Don’t they know!   I’m not knocking positive thinking – a huge proponent actually – I just reject this idea that it’s a magic pill.  The world IS insecure.  It is unsure and unpredictable.  It will always, and till the end of time, give us joy beyond measure . . . and loss, heartbreak, and disappointment beyond measure.  And all the praying to the manifesting, law-of-attraction gods will not make us magically immune to pain and disappointment.  The true key is not to be constantly coveting an over-there reality that may or may not ever come to us, or to try and create a cocoon of cotton candy denial around us from all the realities of life, but to amass the masterful tools meant to help us respond to all of it – the fortunate and the unfortunate – with grace, humility, mindfulness, and compassionate vigilance.   To truly be able to recognize the beauty, and power, and opportunity for transformation and swift healing in whatever experience is given to us.  Which doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work toward goals, or not try to cultivate a can-do mindset.   But what it does mean is that if we live only for the GOAL, then we completely miss the GOLD of the absolutely magnificent right now.

I want to never miss the gold.

I want to learn the lessons that every encounter with every kind of being on the planet is meant to teach me.  And I want to appreciate them for that, instead of collecting enemies.

And I want my only prayers from this day forward to be . . . NOT . . . “Dear God, please give me . . .”    But two words, and two words only:  Thank you.

I want a simple life.

 

With wine.

 

And chocolate.

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.

Sleepwalk (The Song Series)

Sleepwalk Song Series

There is a song, a pop classic, actually, a signature pedal steel tune from the 1950’s, called Sleepwalk.   This is not that.

I wrote MY Sleepwalk in 1994, but my original vision for it did not get recorded until 2007, when The Slow Club Quartet was assembling material for our second CD Expressionism.   It wasn’t even a song we performed as a quartet, as the arrangement is for an entirely different set of instruments, but an unexpectedly fortuitous thing occurred just as we were putting the album together, and there was no way I was going to lose the opportunity.

Let’s start at the beginning.  Sleepwalk is spoken word, but I had a very specific instrumental underscoring in my head for it.   I was a singer and marginal songwriter at that point in my life (hell, maybe I still am). I could write a chord chart, but my only background with instruments were the years of piano lessons as a kid.   Yet I heard this instrumentation in my head, had listened to enough symphonic music in my life, and decided to rise to the challenge.   Henry Mancini, the 1960’s, cool jazz, all of that was the general vibe I was hoping to cop, a sort of slinky Pink Panther-esque thing to accompany the libretto, a cracked bit of flash fiction (not even a term yet in 1994) meant to be absurd and humorous.   I even signed up for a semester of harmony and theory at Pasadena City College for the express purpose of getting a sense of how instruments talk to each other, and relate to each other.   I got a little cheat sheet that tells you the ranges and clefs of different instruments of the orchestra.   I could not have been more hanging on the edge of the ledge by my fingernails in trying to compose and orchestrate a piece that actually made sense and worked.

My new Korg synthesizer (circa early 90’s) aided me in laying down the parts, so that I could hear whether certain lines worked against each other or not.   Real orchestrators will surely cringe to read this.   For them it’s all about “seeing” how the parts and lines work with each other on a score.

But when all was said and done, I was tickled by the piece, composed for acoustic bass, muted trumpet, trombone, 2 flutes, drums, and voice.   A very sparse piece.  Lots of space and air between notes.  The bass is the lead instrument.   And every note is written.  This isn’t the case of a chord/rhythm chart, where the rhythm section merely uses the skeleton, and they comp within and around it.   There’s something very cool to me about that kind of songwriting, because each time the piece is played by a different set of players, the notes played are of a most unique, unrepeatable nature, and in that sense the song is reinvented with each playing.   But with orchestrated pieces, the notes are the notes.   What’s going to give each performance its unique resonance is the intention, dynamics, and emotion behind it.

So, there it was.  My composed piece.   My tiny little nugget.  It would turn out to be years before I would ever get to hear it played by real instruments, to truly get confirmation on whether it worked.

After it was completed, it sat on the proverbial shelf for about another 4 years, until I found myself in 1998 the lead performer in the most innovative of musical projects, Elvis Schoenberg’s Orchestre Surreal.   The project’s leader, composer, orchestrator, and conductor is Ross Wright, a student of the music of composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and the New Music school, as well as a devotee of Frank Zappa, and that peculiar mixture of Ross’s musical influences has most definitely shaped the vision that is the Orchestre Surreal.

In the beginning I was just a vocalist with the orchestra, singing incredibly challenging parts, and devising and developing a character (“The Fabulous Miss Thing”), in order to front this wacky, larger-than-life creation.   Then one day I showed Ross my score for Sleepwalk, a piece never played.   Ross is the real deal, so I can’t honestly say he looked at it with any great awe.   I’m sure my little orchestrated piece was precious to him.   But he liked it as a concept, thought it would fit the nutty nature of the Orchestre Surreal, and suggested that he re-orchestrate it for the 30 pieces.   I was thrilled by the notion.   There would be an Angela Carole Brown original as part of the illustrious Orchestre Surreal.

The first time the piece ever got played, and then for years after, of performing with the OS, it was Ross’s arrangement,  a big, bad, brazen and formidable thing, that we performed.

To this day, I love what Ross did with it.  It climaxes into a sort of Ornette Coleman-esque insanity.  It’s been exciting to have realized, and we not only added it to the show but recorded it for the Orchestre Surreal’s debut album Air Surreal.

And yet as much as I loved this lion of an arrangement, I still yearned to hear the piece realized in the vibey little intimate and sparse way I had originally conceived of it.  To know, definitively, if I actually had it in me as an orchestrator and realizor of a vision.  I honestly didn’t know if there would ever come the opportunity, because I didn’t have a project of my own (The Slow Club Quartet and The Global Folk were developed some years later), and even if I did create a project of my own, it certainly wouldn’t be with the instrumentation of trumpet, trombone, flutes and bass.

Fast forward to 2007, and now I was leading my own jazz ensemble, The Slow Club Quartet.   We were amassing material for our second album together, and Sleepwalk hadn’t crossed my mind in some years.   Then one day during this time I was speaking with Ross Wright on the phone, and talking about the record I was about to make, and I just happened casually to mention that I wished I hadn’t lost the original score I’d written on it.   That as much as I loved the Orchestre’s version of it, I still wished I’d gotten the chance to hear it the way I’d originally written it, but that I didn’t have a clue where the score was after all these years.  Probably gone the way of my old, beaten up, obsolete (by this point) Korg synthesizer.   And Ross promptly said, “Oh I’ve got it.   I guess I didn’t realize that I never gave it back to you after I re-orchestrated it.  But yeah, I still have your original score.”

I literally squealed, thanked Ross for never throwing it out (my assumption), and promptly made the executive decision to include it on The Slow Club Quartet’s Expressionism, even though the only members of the quartet who would play on it would be the bass player and drummer, and even if the likelihood of it ever getting performed live somewhere was practically nil.   I found a way to squeeze in a session for trumpet, trombone, bass, 2 flutes, drums, and me, in the midst of the quartet’s recording.   And my heart raced with the nervous anticipation of finally, after 13 years, getting to hear what my piece was always meant to sound like.

Craig Pilo, the Slow Club Quartet’s drummer, was producing the album and doing some of the recording in his own studio.  We had to record the whole thing part by part.   Craig laid down a drum track of sizzling brushes, a kind of fluid comping-and-keeping-time as one entity, as a framework for everyone else to play against, along with the SCQ’s bassist Don Kasper on upright.   The bass part, being the lead instrument on this piece, is really just playing a walking bass line, but the specific “road” I wrote for it is somewhat theatrical, operating in accord with the story’s rhythmic arc.  Next, we brought in trumpeter Dave Scott, a recommendation of the SCQ’s pianist Ed Czach, who lived in New York but was in town for a bit.   Dave brought just the right about of “bent” to the proceedings.   Even though he strictly played the notes on the page, there was an energetic edge to his playing that I absolutely loved.   We brought in flutist Bill Esparza to do what had to easily be THE simplest flute parts he’s probably ever had to play in his life.  And I sent the trombone part to my friend Ira Nepus, who took it into a recording studio of his own choice, laid down his part, and sent the file back to me (so modern!).   And finally, lastly, my spoken word part, the story, the crazy little fiction I’d written about a doomed hermaphrodite.  Theatre of the Absurd at your service.

As it came together, layer by layer, part by part, after 13 years of waiting and wondering, I could not have been more gratified with how my original vision was sounding as played by real, living, breathing, feeling musicians.

What’s truly cool is that I now have two very different versions of Sleepwalk forever documented and on two very different kinds of albums.  I highly recommend checking out The Orchestre Surreal’s album Air Surreal, and their version of Sleepwalk.   But for my purposes here on the Song Series, my original vision, the version found on The Slow Club Quartet’s Expressionism (the only original on an album of covers), is the one I want to share here.   Because it’s my baby, my arrangement, my orchestrating, my singular example of stepping outside of my own comfort zone and abilities, and forcing myself to rise to the orchestrating occasion.   Like I said, to any real symphonic composers out there in the world, this little arrangement is sure to seem precious.   But I am very proud of it.   It creates exactly that sense of Noir Bizarre that I was intending.

Please enjoy Sleepwalk.

http://angelacarolebrown.bandcamp.com/track/sleepwalk

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.

The Slow Club (The Song Series)

SlowClubSongSeries

The anecdote at the top of this piece is one I’ve told before, time and time again actually, but for the sake of this song series I can’t possibly not include it.

It’s my mystical moment in this life.

The very first song I ever wrote, The Slow Club, which ultimately became the title cut of my debut jazz CD, is about a nightclub in Paris.  At the time I wrote it I’d never been to the city of lights.  The story in the song is fiction.  The club itself is fiction.  And in the song I describe in great detail what the mood and look and walls and smell are like in this place.  A few years after writing it and performing it around L.A., I was singing it in a club one night, and a French woman came up to me afterwards. This was the exchange:

 

“I enjoyed your song very much.  It made me think back with fond memory of my days at the Slow Club.”

“Oh, Well, thank you, ma’am, I appreciate it.  But the song is…actually….just…fiction.”

“Oh, no.  The Slow Club in Paris, France, oui?”

“I … really do think you’re thinking of someplace else.  There isn’t a Slow Club.  I don’t mean to insist, it’s just that I made it up.  I just have this silly, romantic fixation for Paris.”

“And mademoiselle, I, as well, don’t mean to insist, but I am the one who has been to this place you sing about.  On the Rue du Rivoli, right down the way from the Louvre.  I would say that is some pretty powerful  fixation.”

 

My jaw was dropped for the next several years, as I continued to sing this song around town, told this story, and relished in my, and my song’s, spooky allure.  Until I finally did make it to Paris for the first time, and went to this place conjured in my head.  And there it was, just as she’d promised, with a Rue du Rivoli address.  But the mind-freak did not stop there.  I walked in, unprepared for an even newer set of phenomena.  Every single detail I describe in the lyric of the song was personified before my very eyes, including the winding staircase that takes one down (not up) into it.

I promptly ordered a sloe gin (not a great-tasting cocktail, but mentioned in my lyric so I had to participate), grinned from ear to ecstatic ear at the wonders of  life, and concluded that I must’ve been that Slow Club chanteuse in another lifetime, simply recalling pockets of memory from a long-dormant nether-plane.

Whether an actual spiritual reincarnation or merely a mischievous flight of fancy is the explanation, it was that singular experience that began my journey as a musician and a writer, carrying with me at all times the mysterious wonders that art simply begets.

I’ve had people suggest to me, upon hearing the story, that perhaps I had heard of the Slow Club, forgotten that I’d heard of it, and that it had lodged itself in my subconscious, and came up when I was ready for it.    Of course that’s possible, and I do know how difficult it can be for people to suspend belief, to take leaps of fanciful fate.  Except that I know it did not come to me in that way.  Because the way it DID come to me is very clear in my memory.   The movie Blue Velvet, a film whose story takes place somewhere in the Midwest, features a dive called the Slow Club at which the character Dorothy Valens sings.   First off, I was 26 years old when I first saw this movie, and had just been initiated into my very first cinematic experience of heavy symbolism, metaphor, and creepy yet compelling depiction of life.  Not your garden-variety crime story – at least up that point in 1986.   I was blown away by the movie and its uneasy humor, but that’s an article for another day.  I was mesmerized by this nightclub in the movie, and fancied myself as the femme fatale Dorothy Valens.  Except that in my micro-managing fantasy, this alter-reality HAD to take place in Paris, not the Midwest for god’s sake.  There was romance and allure to Paris!  My head lived in the Parisian clouds for just about that whole decade, praying that someday I would get there.  But yes, Blue Velvet is where I got the idea for my own Slow Club.  Not anything subconscious bubbling up, but a markedly conscious agenda to realize a noir reverie through song.

Imagine, then, my shock and awe to discover the very real place right there in the 1st Arrondissement.

Besides the Blue Velvet / Dorothy Valens fantasy as the engine for my song, there was also the fact at the time (around 1985-86) I had begun immersing myself in jazz.  An early hint of what would become a lifelong love had been given to me in teenhood, when my older sister (not even a musician!) made me listen to the likes of Pharoah Sanders and Lonnie Liston Smith, and I was hooked, even if I couldn’t make heads or tails of what exactly I was listening to.  And by the time I was in my mid-twenties, a string of boyfriends, all musicians, had been instrumental in introducing me to every facet of jazz, from the virtuoso bass playing of the Jaco’s and the Stanley Clarke’s, to the Afro-Cuban and Brazilian movements, to the progressive natures of Miles and Coltrane and Jarrett and McCoy Tyner, to the ridiculous vocalise prowess of singers like Eddie Jefferson and Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, to all the new fusion guys, Metheny, Zawinul, McLaughlin, Corea, ad nauseum, as there’s no shortage of jazz movements and pioneers. I became as entranced by this challenging music as I had been by Parisian-chanteuse daydreams.  So when it came time to attempt my own songwriting, and all I was armed with were the years of piano lessons in childhood, I played around on the keyboard until I found luscious cluster chords that I recognized from the harmonic vocabulary I was being saturated with, but didn’t know how to name, or even how to use in the proper theoretic way.  I knew basic triads, and some bluesy 7ths.   But when it came to flat nines and sharp elevens and Lydian dominants, blah, blah, blah, I was so out of my league.  But I just kept playing around and discovering, and got the mentorship of the many musicians I was gigging with.  And it was a genuine renaissance in my life at that time as an artist, and finding my way, my legs, and eventually my own voice as a songwriter.  When I finally came up for air, The Slow Club  was composed.

The first years of singing the song around town, doing the cabaret and jazz circuits in L.A., it was a brushes-on-the-snare-variety jazz ballad.  And before the recording that is featured here came to fruition, the song saw several incarnations.  I stuck it in my one-woman show The Purple Sleep Café, where it was segued to, from a scene where a rather disastrous audition takes place, and the message of the piece being the importance of staying true as an artist.  And a singer friend who was on the same cabaret circuit as me, and loved the song and asked if he could include it in his repertoire, had a complete orchestral arrangement done of it (an arrangement I never got to hear, as he had taken his show with him to Vegas).

And then, as the years passed, and it was finally time to consider my own jazz album of originals (I’d amassed several by that point, which I’d sung around town for years), my own tastes had shifted somewhat, and I started to hear the song with a different feel.  The jazz fusion genre was enjoying yet another emergence after having been originally established in the 1960’s, and the half-time-shuffle (a rhythmic feel that was starting to be labeled hip hop, as it was used extensively in hip hop music) was a prevalent feel in a lot of what was being called jazz funk.  I liked the feel, thought it might work well with The Slow Club, which still kept the song a ballad, but now with a little hump to it; the kind that screams out for a muted trumpet.  So, by the time I was assembling the latest incarnation of players for my ongoing jazz project (circa 2003 by this point), in the form of pianist Ed Czach, bassist Jonathan Pintoff, and drummer Craig Pilo, this was the way we were playing the tune.  The only change that the composition saw, once I’d switched rhythmic gears, was that I’d added bookends of a minor chord riff into this major-chord piece.   With the addition of trumpeter Ron King, doing his muted thing, we recorded the song live in a church, and The Slow Club was from that moment forth and forever documented.

It not only became the title of the album, but eventually, by the time we had a second album as a trio, the ensemble was named The Slow Club Quartet.   Friends teased me about the band name.  Craig Pilo, the drummer in the group and our resident comedian, would often refer to us as The Very Slow Club Quartet.  But the ribbing was fine, perfectly take-able, because my own history with the song as my very first composition (my cherry-buster), and the mystical magical story that went with it, was all I needed to hold onto, to know that we couldn’t possibly have called ourselves anything else.  Not if I was helming the group.

Please enjoy The Slow Club.

 

 

http://angelacarolebrown.bandcamp.com/track/the-slow-club

 

There’s an old club in Paris on the bluer side of town
It hails on the back street underground
The lady there she sings a sad song – the jazzmen live to blow
They make a kind of music we all know – so
With a slow dance and a sloe gin
Won’t you take me to that Slow Club once again

Don’t move too fast, cuz I’m in no hurry
I’d rather take it at a Paris pace
The dark behind the neon which blinks a rhythmic tune
Rather hypnotizes every face – so
With a slow dance and a sloe gin
Won’t you take me to that Slow Club once again

Listen to those brushes fondle that old drum head
Feel mister bass man snatch your soul
Watch those piano fingers bleed into the keys
As the jazz men swing it low

o many moody face – secret meetings on the stair
“S’en allez avec moi – nous ferons la cour – mon coeur”
With a slow dance and a sloe gin
Won’t you take me to that Slow Club once again

Listen to those brushes fondle that old drum head
Feel mister bass man snatch your soul
Watch those piano fingers bleed into the keys
As the jazz men swing it low

It rather hypnotizes and it makes my old heart sting
When I listen to that slow club lady sing
With her slow dance and her sloe gin
You will see her make a friend of all the men
With a slow dance and a sloe gin
Won’t you take me to that Slow Club once again
With a slow dance and a sloe gin
The neon reads forever “come on in”

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.

Blue Sea of August (The Song Series)

Blue Sea of August

 

“ I’m a sucker for a burnished alto voice and an apocalyptic slide,
so this kinda works for me…”

– David Kelly

 

The first and last tracks on 2008’s Music For the Weeping Woman, which are Blue Sea of August and Bells (Of the Blue Sea), are actually the same song, but bookend the entire record with a vocal version and an instrumental rendering.  There is a bonus track, which is not available on the hard copy recording, but only as a single download, that is a marriage or mash-up of the two.  This is the recording featured here now.

Blue Sea of August  was the first song I wrote towards the album project Music For the Weeping Woman.   I had a very specific, narrow, and focused idea of what I wanted to accomplish with this album, and with the individual songs:  An ode to the vulnerability of women and their tears, and the myriad of emotional engines behind the phenomenon of tears, the seed of inspiration being Picasso’s “Weeping Women” series.  I’d just seen the movie Cold Mountain, and there is a song that plays throughout the film that was written by Sting, and sung by Alison Krauss, two of my favorite musicians, so that got my attention.   It was the most eerie and haunting ballad I think I’d ever heard, and really captured that sense of ancient folklore and American roots.   It was also such as ridiculously simple form whose simplicity was almost deceiving for how powerful it was.  I was instantly inspired to create something along similar lines.  Blue Sea of August  is about longing and loss in the most general sense of those words, but it wasn’t until I wrote the lyric “When my true love comes a-marching home” (an unexpected nod to the transpiration of the soldier) that I was really hit with the full scope of what longing and loss could encompass, and that it was potentially massive.   That’s the lyric portion of things.  When it came to the music part, it was my first time writing in a very small form, an almost (really stretching the boundaries on this) dactylic tetrameter quatrain, and allowing that to be the entire song (four stanzas of it), and resolving it without the standard pop music arrival chorus.  It’s completely rubato, and yet with that implied dactylic design.

As for the title, I took it from the 1975 Lena Wertmüller film Swept Away, whose complete title is actually Swept Away By An Unusual Destiny In the Blue Sea of August.  But the movie studio nixed the cumbersome title, and went with the shortened version for its official release. Personally, I think they kept the wrong half of the title.   And so, IN swoops Angela to happily take it off their hands.   I had no idea what kind of deep thirsting I was about to unleash as I began to compose.

Once the song was written, and in preparation for recording it, I had lots of conversations with guitarist Ken Rosser, my partner on this album, on the conceptual ideas for the song.   Of the many developments that came out of our confabs, and the incredible way in which (despite the fact that I am the sole composer) this was completely collaborative, was Ken’s idea to do, as well, an instrumental version of the song.   He had an entire layering concept in mind, and there isn’t often a bright idea of Ken’s that I say “no” to.    Once this absolute stunner was executed, and I added some Tibetan singing bowls to the proceeding, I knew it would require its own title.  Enter Bells (Of the Blue Sea).  

Fast forward to just a few months ago (roughly 6 years after the album’s release), and I decided to mash up both versions and make it available as an extended single.  I posted the track on Facebook, and got a really lovely thread going, beginning with the quotation at the top of this piece.   And while there were several participants on this thread, for the purpose of this piece I have culled only Ken’s and my contributions.  The rest were generally some pretty amazing and gracious accolades, but the process, as Ken and I excitedly recalled it, is really what I wanted to expound on here.

As transcribed from Facebook:
.
.

KEN ROSSER
This is one of my favorite tracks I’ve ever played on.

 

ACB
Apocalyptic slide?   Yeah, David Kelly!   That’s just about perfect.

 

KEN ROSSER
Just here to be of service.

 

ACB
I think of this song as almost a sea shanty, but without the yo-ho-ho-ness of your typical sea shanties. Instead there is a quality of looming doom in the music, much like that sense one might get from staring out at the sea, and acknowledging its ever-elusive horizon.  I wanted the feeling of a haunting, and I imparted that to Ken. So he began experimenting with loops and feedback, and this kind of grungy aural thing that almost evoked the sound of whales, or the creaking of a haunted barge (seriously!), and suddenly this unfolding of a dark abyss began to take shape.  I am a sucker for pathos, and Ken really captures that sense of loss and longing that is the prevalent intention.  And then there is the super-tremendous instrumental rendering of the song, whose textures are even thicker and darker and more perilous.  Ken gets me so well!   He is an absolute revelation on these tracks, and they remain my favorite on the album.

 

KEN ROSSER
Still never seen Swept Away . . . I need to fix that.

 

ACB
Dude!  . . . . . . . . . . .  That’s all I’ll say.

 

KEN ROSSER
Once you get into the emotional space of the piece it’s just a matter of framing and reinforcing.  So, because there was this tonic/dominant drone, I used an idea I’d gotten from the composer Angelo Badalamenti to add another layer of harmonic tension and release that would sort of work around that.  Then it was just coming up with those sounds, which are a pretty standard part of my vocabulary – using fuzz boxes and delays to generate layers of tones, and then sub tones and overtones.

Doing an instrumental recasting of the melody was an idea I’d heard in tons of film scores, where there’s a vocal theme song but little instrumental snippets of it reappear throughout – Breakfast At Tiffany’s (MoonRiver) and Alice In Wonderland  being two that immediately come to mind.  And I felt like since the record was basically a dialog between the guitar and voice, the guitar should get the last word.

Guitar-wise, this was me paying homage to some of my biggest influences, David Torn (whom I was becoming friends with at the time and was advising me a lot), Terje Rypdal, and Ry Cooder (especially his Trespass soundtrack).

I used a G&L Legacy for the whammy bar stuff and Larry Pogreba guitar for the slide, through Lovepedal Eternity and Wolfetone Chaos fuzz pedals and the Echoplex Digital Pro for the loops/delays, into a VHT Pittbull 45 amp.

 

ACB
Yeah, and I used a single index finger on the low end of the synthesizer, on the tonic for about 16 bars, and then on the dominant for about 16 bars.   Very complicated stuff on this end, Ken.   Don’t feel intimidated.

 

KEN ROSSER
Angela, I thought you might find this funny, as I don’t think I’d ever told you. When I did that melody instrumentally I was really trying to fixate on getting a vocal phrasing and for some reason the actual voice that popped in my head was Sinéad O’Connor’s, because I imagined that a song about the sea would work well in her Irish brogue, with this slightly angry sneer to it.  There’s even one of her little pet vocal tics that I snuck in there, that sorta cracks me up a little when I hear it now.

 

ACB
Sinéad O’Connor should record this song!!

 

KEN ROSSER
If that makes you a butt load of money, you owe me dinner.

 

ACB
From now on, when I listen to Bells (Of the Blue Sea) I’ll be listening for Essences of Sinéad.

So, the funny thing on MY end about your Sinéad inspirations is that I’ve always had a tug at me from the Irish when it comes to my songwriting.  (Where the hell does that even come from?  I’m a black chick from Compton!)  But if you think about Far Above Rubies, and a couple others of mine, there’s definitely an ancestral tug of some sort there.

 

KEN ROSSER
Yeah, it’s funny how that is.  And well, I figure – you go back far enough, we’re all from East Africa a few hundred millennia ago . . . the black American and Irish experience are just different shades of the human experience, taking the long view.

 

ACB
Anyway, what were we talking about?

 

(End of Facebook transcription).

 

I know that we could go on and on about this.  It was such a fun recording process for us.  But I’ll stop here, and I hope you enjoy Blue Sea of August / Bells (Of the Blue Sea).

 

http://angelacarolebrown.bandcamp.com/track/blue-sea-of-august-extended-version

 

There is a calm on the blue sea of August
There is a balm that anoints my head
It is the promise that my one true love
Will find me before I’m put to bed

There is a haze on the blue sea of August
There is a gaze that shines its eyes on me
It is the warning that I’d best be ready
When my true love beckons tenderly

There is a gleam on the blue sea of August
There is a dream that settles on the foam
It is that love will ne’er again falter
When my true love comes a-marching home

There is a gust on the blue sea of August
There is a lust all other seasons lack
‘Tis in the heat of a summer’s high noon
When the sea swears to bring my true love back

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.

Fix the Bend (The Song Series)

FixTheBend

I’ve decided to start a little songsmith series here on Bind Girl Chronicles, detailing the inspiration, inception, and creative process behind the songs that I’ve composed.   I wouldn’t, by any stretch, call myself a prolific writer. I’ve written remarkably few songs in my 3 decades as a musician.   But each one has been an undertaking that has felt meaningful, has had its mountains for sure, and hopefully translates in finished product as something meaningful for you, the listener.

And so I’ll start with Fix the Bend, a song I wrote in 1989, but didn’t feature on any public recording until 2004.

CS Lewis, in his science fiction / fantasy novel Out of the Silent Planet, called us, “us” meaning earthlings, the Bent Ones, because of his book’s assertion that we divide the beautiful forces of the world with our intolerance, ignorance, and hubris. And so from Lewis’ label “the Bent Ones” came the title for my song Fix the Bend, an ode to human beings’ struggle to find meaning through works, and through legacy.

As I began to compose, and instantly chose a 6/8 rhythmic pattern, and an “empty fifth” riff, the song seemed to find its way toward something very Africanesque.

(Geek Warning!   An empty fifth, which is also sometimes called an open fifth, is a chord with the root and fifth only, and no third.   The third determines if the chord will be major or minor, and so the absence of one makes it a chord that can fit in most any harmonic environment.  There’s an angularity and a stoicism to the empty fifth, IMO.)

And so, since it seemed to be developing in a vague sort of neo-Carribean/African way, I asked my brother-in-law, McKinley Thomas, who had spent many years living in Tanzania and therefore spoke fluent Kiswahili, if he would translate the phrase “fix the bend” for me, something to use as a kind of chant to churn beneath the bed of the song. What he came back to me with was so enigmatic sounding.

Kulekebisha Imeeda Kumbo translates roughly as to “right what is wrong” or even “repair what is broken.”   I just loved its power. I loved its ancientness.   And I loved that it had so many syllables and hard consonants!   Something I could really work with in terms of creating a chant.   That seemed to be the completing factor of this song about the human race just scrambling to give their lives meaning in a world that is growing increasingly bent.

The song was written years before I produced my album Resting on the Rock, but other than a home studio recording that was largely sequenced and synthed all out of early-90s-style proportion, it had never appeared on any record.   So, when it came time to assemble a body of material for Resting on the Rock, I pulled it off the symbolic dusty shelf, and brought it to the guitar-led trio that I was calling The Global Folk.   The Global Folk (who, on rare occasions any longer, do still come out of hiding for a special occasion), consists of  multi-stringed instrumentalist Ken Rosser, bassist Ross Wright, and drummer and ethnic percussion whiz Paul Angers.  And they brought the song to life in a very different, very organic, very folkloric way. Ken Rosser plays the electric 12-string guitar and his iconic electric sitar on the track.  Ross Wright plays the fretless bass.  Paul Angers contributes a wonderful layering of African drums, which include the tbilat, djembe, tsanatsel, and tiwa shakers.   And even I contribute a little “marimba” synth sound for flavor, playing the main empty-5th riff, and of course lead vocal.   The crowning factor, however, are the deep baritone voices of Glenn Carlos and Kellum Lewis chanting the haunting words that McKinley had given us.

I am really tickled with this song, and its treatment by the Global Folk.   One thing I really know about Ken Rosser, whom I’ve often called, in all earnestness, my musical soul mate, is his way with an electric sitar.   He plays the real gourded thing as well.  But when it comes to the electric, he has absolutely no interest in trying to replicate the acoustic sitar sound, texture, tone, even style.   He considers it a different animal altogether.   And as such, his takes on a most unexpected role in this song.   His solo, on the electric sitar, is almost blues . . . and with every bit of pathos that goes with the blues.   Very exciting for me.

I’d originally had the composition move into a brief 5/4 cadence before rushing back into the loping 6/8, which was meant to be a kind of power-trio moment, which really worked well in its original synth-y form.   But with these real instruments playing something more aligned with nature and a folk-culture stamp than with the synthetic gloss of the original conception (and that lovely, self-indulgent, time-signature-change-every-3-bars, dated, 1993 sound), the 5/4 moment really no longer had a place.  I didn’t want to lose the “spiritual zone” of the 6/8.

The song opens with just the tiniest grace note of Martin Luther King’s 1963 speech on the Lincoln steps. Seemed appropriate.

I hope you enjoy Fix the Bend.

 

http://angelacarolebrown.bandcamp.com/track/fix-the-bend

 

men will try to give their sons the moon
boys in turn they leave their fathers soon
women fight to raise their daughters right
and they try,   and they try

 lovers pen the epic prose of spring
preachers preach the words “let freedom ring”
soldiers fight the battles they are sold
and they try,   and they try

fix the bend …

painters leave their lives on muraled walls
heroes leave their mark upon us all
live to shout that we must fix the bend
and they try,   and they try

fix the bend …
(kulekebisha imeeda kumbo)

creatures say of us from other worlds
“look see how they’ve dulled their shiny pearl”
mother earth she screams to fix the bend
we must try,   we must try

fix the bend …
(kulekebisha imeeda kumbo)

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.

Embracing My Inner Outsider

Awkward&Alone copy

 

I’ve spent the last 30 years as part of an industry that I have never loved.  And, frankly, it has never loved me, though I take pause even with that assertion.  Does it really love anyone?  Or is it merely more tolerable and pliant and giving (and forgiving) to the ones who have the gift for manipulating it?  I don’t.  Have the gift, that is.  I never did.

Now, let me preface everything that follows with the pronouncement that I have had a fortunate career (writer and musician are my vocations).  It’s never been large.  Never global.   But the shelves are always stocked.  There’s always content.  And I am blessed.

Here, however, is the crux of my quagmire.  I have always resisted working the system.  And I’ve had people in my life literally shake my shoulders with, “what’s wrong with you!”   Especially when they know me well, and know that as equal as is my great skill of ignoring the system, is also, paradoxically, my great desire to thrive within it.

There’s the time I had a foreign record deal.  I was in a state of ridiculous elation over having scored this.  And when I was overseas promoting it, I was asked in an interview what I thought of my hit song. (Yes, I had a hit song in this particular country many moons ago.)  The truth was, I hated it.  I thought it was poorly composed, and I was angry at the phenomenon that merely based on this particular writer/producer’s reputation and popularity in the community that his song (ostensibly my song) was an instant hit. Did anyone out there ever actually stop to consider if the song was good? …. had been my perplexed self-questions.

I reflect now back to the day we recorded the song, at the legendary Capitol Records, which gave me a total thrill independent of the dreck I was about to record, and the knot in my gut over said dreck.  And I remember having a hard time connecting with the song, and therefore failing to deliver any semblance of an authentic take.  I sounded terrible to myself.  So I asked the man producing the track, the songwriter, to please tell me what the song meant.  I didn’t understand the seemingly disconnected lyrics, but felt it was only fair to give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume first that I just didn’t get something, that it was over my head, rather than to assume it was simply lazy writing.  When he, very frustratingly, said to me, and clearly done with me wasting his time, “What do you mean, what does it mean? Just sing the damn song!” I knew in that instant that we’d all sold our souls to the devil.

Now back (or  forward, as it were) to being interviewed about it.  Why would anyone even ask me IF I liked the song?   I’d recorded it.  I’d been complicit in the crime.  I was here promoting it.  Why wouldn’t they just assume I liked it?  Instead, as if I were wearing my guilt and shame on my forehead, they would ask me, in their barely conjugated English, if I liked my big, giant hit.   And I suddenly felt like that old commercial about E.F. Hutton, where everyone turns their head in my direction, and shuts up.  If there was any part of my soul that hadn’t yet become the Devil’s bitch, I owed it to said part.

And so I said, so sheepishly that if I’d had testicles they’d’ve been sucked right up inside of me:  “No.”

The room went bedlam.  Seriously.  And bedlam in a foreign language is just white noise, but the gist was pretty clear.

I was properly schooled and ripped a new one, later on that day by a label rep, on the obligation that is mine to play the game, and oh, I don’t know, maybe think about being a little bit gracious for this opportunity you’ve been given in the first place, Miss Brown.   There wasn’t a single thing that was said to me in this rant that wasn’t absolutely correct, and what I deserved.  I’d signed on for this ride.  It had been responsible for a lot of money in my pocket (fleeting though that was), my first jaunt abroad, and the potential for who-knew-how-many doors to be opened for me.  And now it was time to help sell this thing, to help make its investors their money back, to help us all get somewhere in this business.  I was obedient for the rest of the trip.

Needless to say, they were not interested in renewing my contract for a second album.  It was “good riddance to that arrogant chick.”  I cannot blame them.  I’d been their liability with that one little powerful word.  And yet once I got back to the States, and resumed my life, I was beyond frustrated with my failed efforts to parlay that experience into something more, bigger, better, a roll, a continuing relationship with that record company.  And I genuinely did not understand how that closed door might’ve had anything to do with my unwillingness to be a company man.

Okay, here’s just one more example of my industry and me being at odds, and then I’ll leave it alone, because truth be told I’ve got examples by the droves, but I’m sure you have my dynamic by now.

My second literary agent (I’ve been through two, with no book deal between them) seriously believed in my writing.  The way she praised me, she could not have been any better for my ego.  She’d read two of my manuscripts (one of which is now The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, which came out last year, published under my own imprint, because I’ve never managed to get that book deal), and she thought I was someone very special.  She also stated quite frankly to me, in agreeing to take me on, that her specialty was selling romance writers, but that she so believed in me that she would try this area that was not even her expertise, which is the general fiction/literary fiction genre.

When all efforts were exhausted to get me a deal, she took a meeting with me, and urged me to consider writing romance novels.  I told her that I’d never read them, but had a good impression of what we were talking here, and that it was of no interest to me.  She gave me a handful of books by some of her authors, encouraged me to learn what the genre was about, and to at least consider it.  Her spiel was that she didn’t have a clue how to sell a literary novel (not the most popular in this age’s quick-read-bathroom-reading-airport-reading-breezy-formula culture), but that romance she knew, and she knew it well, and she could make us both a lot of money.

I took the books home, read a couple of them, and my stomach churned at how much I disliked them.   And not the specific books themselves, or the writing, per se, but the formula.  Which includes:  That the conflict in the story always be external, never internal.  It needs to be about someone or some thing/institution getting in your protagonist’s way from her (almost always a her) intended pursuit (romance, of course).  It is never about internal conflicts and psychological dynamics being the barriers to a protagonist’s road.  It is never intended to be an exploration of soul or the human condition.   And the result must always be that she gets her man.  Not my kind of book.  I want my guts turned inside out by a book.  So, as a reader, I knew what kind of writer I wanted to be … what kind of writer I was.

I prayed so hard on this, because I knew that I was just a “yes” away from possibly making my name as a writer (my agent was confident that she could do right by me).   And that was damned enticing.  Yet, in the end, I chose not to go that path.   My conversation with self and God was that life was too short, and my creative voice too precious to exert any amount of energy writing something that I did not love.  Self-important?  Well, yes.  I believe there should be no shame in believing that what we are put on this earth to do is important.

So, there you go.   This is what I do.   I derail.

In all of my frustrations over the years with continuing to be what many would call “small time” with my artistic pursuits, it almost never dawns on me my own culpability in the deed, and my seeming penchant for self-sabotage.  And so I’ve remained, for better and for worse, a loiterer in this business.  Someone who doesn’t really belong here, but who has hovered around the fringes long enough to actually be somewhat of a tiny institution, a familiarity (even loved by some, which always humbles me), but almost never invited to come inside and sit at the grownup table.  That’s the “worse” part; that because of my own stubborn, self-important machinations, I may never be lauded on that scale of which I’ve always dreamed.

But then there’s the “better” part.  I have carved for myself a voice, a brand.   It is unique.  Some love it, others not so much.  That’s okay.  It has perseverance.  It has legs.  Even in spite of the many closed doors.  And it is here that my penchant for stubbornness and hardheadedness actually works FOR me.

Doing it on my terms is the surest way to sleep soundly at night.  To keep my soul clean, and my legacy one I’ll never, ever have to disclaim.  It is who I am.  It not only nourishes my spirit, but keeps me firmly grounded in integrity.

Opportunities may have passed me by.  Many never offered. But my voice, as an artist, writer, songsmith, singer, is strong and immovable. It is oak.  And I am learning to let go of regrets.  It’s a rancid lesson sometimes, full of painful dawnings.  Because what I do know about myself is that I always seem to take 4 steps when 2 would do the job.  There is just a make-it-happen! gene that I seem to be missing.  But I also can’t help believing that if I had managed to master the chops of working the system, that I simply would be a different artist.   And, frankly, I’m kinda partial to the one I’ve cultivated.

Is this about reclaiming my better self?  Fostering grace?   After more than a decade lingering in and out of minor depression?  Self-doubt?  Bitterness at my industry?  Bitterness at having to age while still holding onto that rung of my youth-worshipping business?  I think it may well be.  It also could be a mass of rationalizations.   But then again, what is that?   Just a way of accepting, really.  That the here and now is all that matters.  That our efforts and our contributions, and even our sometime inability to make things happen, will render whatever it renders.  And whatever that is….is a part of our story.   And is okay.

That’s a far more peaceful way to live.  I’m opting for that.   Non-attachment to outcome.  Just do.  Because truth be told, I have ridiculous stretches of creative productivity, and they are always accompanied by joy.  Is there a better way to live than that?

Life has unfolded for me exactly as it was meant to.  The rocks that have been thrown in my way (or that I’ve tossed in my own way) have built a certain muscle on me.  Some walk between the raindrops, and get everything easily.  I know many of that type.  I have a good life, a blessed life.  But I am not that person.  And if I were, frankly I’m fairly certain that I would be unmanageable.  So, I do believe I am a better person because of the path that has been selected for me.

And yes, that means I was destined to be the difficult one.   The one you just can’t reason with, when an opportunity is being offered.  Stubborn to a fault.

Oy.   There are worse mantles, I guess.

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.