Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Recording Today - Diving In

The Lindsays are starting a new recording today.  It's very exciting!

But are we ready? No.

We know it's true that often one must jump in at the deep end, but the only way to do that .... but not to do it foolishly, you have to know that you can swim, or at least gasp and flail your way to safety... The creative process does feel a little like that.

Sometimes we just have an idea and we really don't know what the product is going to be. We have an idea that there is an important journey to be made but we don't know the destination. But, facing the pool of creativity, we have to dive anyway, lest we become those people who repeat themselves over and over... "I always wanted to, but..."

And so today, we don our swimming gear and we dive.... in hopes that it will be a swan dive and we'll butterfly along like champions.

We'll keep you posted!




Friday, January 15, 2016

The Pure Drop: In Honor of Friendship


Give us authenticity over talent any day. Give us both and we're yours forever.

David Bowie gave us both: his delivery was always authentic, his engagement with his art never staged. (Not like Taylor Swift at the 2014 Grammys. I may never recover. But teaching my seven-year-old daughter that this insanity was mock-worthy was a critical teaching moment.) 




My Irish musician friend, who's been a passionate musician for more than 40 years, wrote to me after my Bowie post and said, "That was a nice piece but to be honest, before yesterday, I had never even heard of David Bowie."  And the next day on Facebook, Brian O'Donovan, host of the Celtic Sojourn radio program on National Public Radio, was ignoring Bowie and representing for Irish music. He described what it means to be "real" in Irish music: 


"In traditional Irish music, there is 'pure drop.' Straightforward, honest, no-rush playing..." 


So in honor of talent, authenticity, and lasting friendship:  Helen "Auntie Hen" Kisiel on piano with the late great Brendan Tonra on fiddle, and my girl Kieran Jordan dancing. Two out of three of them never even heard of Bowie. That's ok; I have no idea who Lemmy is.





Monday, January 11, 2016

Why Musicians Are Sad that David Bowie Died


How strange that David Bowie, who died yesterday after a long battle with cancer, could have become a household name. Perhaps only his contemporaries George Clinton et al in Parliament Funkadelic were as bizarre, but Bowie one-upped them with his flamboyant androgyny, challenging public perceptions of sexuality decades before society at large had begrudgingly accepted the “1 in 10” among us. Still, he became a rock legend with a string of chart hits. Mind you, he was drop-dead gorgeous, and by God could he write a song.

His 40-year career traces the chronology of the music industry’s cutting edge, even when his hits were situated smack dab in the middle of the Billboard charts. His 25 albums sold an estimated 140 million copies, including multiple gold, silver, and platinum honors. He appeared in two major motion pictures and held a starring role on Broadway, and later earned a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, two Grammy awards, and a rank of 29 in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Rock Artists of all time… not to mention a brand-new album that just came out three days ago.
  
David Bowie represents a rare circumstance in which society at large willingly accepted creative oddity and its genius—not just carnival oddity, but art oddity, in which there is intention in one’s created persona—and society actually paid for it. With Ziggy Stardust, Bowie embarked on a psychedelic, sequin-studded, gender-crushing extravaganza with clearly no commercial potential—yet we all bought and paid for it, to his great commercial success.

There are certainly artists and musicians out there doing things today as radical as Bowie was in his time, who operate so far outside the lines that we can’t even connect them with the lines anymore—but we don’t see them unless we look, hard. We are in an age where the music industry is controlled by a handful of major labels, and it’s exceedingly rare when the odd acts, the different acts, the ones with “no commercial potential” can get a look-in to the commercial mainstream. The Internet allows independent musicians to self-promote and reach global audiences nearly for free… but what many of these fledgling acts lack is the massive budget Bowie had to stage shimmering spectaculars like Ziggy Stardust. That doesn’t seem to be how the industry is spending its money these days.

To take creative risks, to venture out singlemindedly, obsessively focused on creating a persona, music, a production to go with it, and to do so brazenly in the face of the musical slush that was the “soft-rock” 1970s (and my friend Chris Barrett of Kingsley Flood reminds me "the 70s were the BEST DECADE FOR RECORDED MUSIC SO FAR")—and to do it because that’s where his creativity and his confidence in his direction led him—that’s the bravery that so many of us artists, writers, and musicians crave. To say, “I have something special” and to venture out, unafraid. That’s freedom.

Not all artists can afford that freedom, or perhaps we aren’t all willing to make the infinite sacrifices that a creative life with no apparent commercial potential will undoubtedly entail. Some are too busy making a living to make the art they really envision. Those who do are so rare that they earn their position on our pedestals, ramen noodle by ramen noodle.

That’s why it’s sad when someone like David Bowie dies. With his passing, the world loses a rare genius who encapsulates what we all crave but are unable to live out, day by day: drive, vision, sacrifice, confidence, longevity, and—above all—a personal brand of creative abandon.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Christmas Hammer

"The best part about hitting yourself in the head with a hammer is how peaceful you feel when the pain goes away." 
--Susan Lindsay, Sage

Greetings from the Garden of Necessary Evils, where challenging family members, jobs that suck up all your creative time, the house that never gets clean, and [insert ominous music here] ... kale ... grow like noxious weeds, threatening to choke out the dew-kissed rose that breathes its sugared fragrance upon your gently beating heart.

What. EVER. Gimme the weeds any day. A weed is nothing but an unwanted plant—but a plant, nonetheless. Did you know that poinsiettas are weeds in Australia?

Speaking of which, let's talk about Christmas. Shall we?

This weekend is dedicated to putting all the Christmas crap away, as well as the mountain of laundry that mounted up over the last month of Christmas, when we were so busy performing Christmas gigs, entertaining visiting family from overseas, and organizing gifts and Christmas activities that we had no time to prevent the house from falling to rack and ruin. And oh, it did.

Do you remember the time I posted a New Year's blog entry that was all about cleaning the house and pronouncing how that year was hereby dedicated "The Year of the House"? Did you notice that the next time I came back to the blog was 20 MONTHS LATER? Housekeeping is a lousy muse.

The epiphany following Epiphany is that Christmas is really just like that hammer: It can be a royal pain in the ass but I wouldn't trade it for the world, and once it's all put away and stored in five giant Rubbermaid bins in the basement, boy does it help usher in a beautiful, peaceful January.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Little Red Hen, The Sequel


There once was an author called The Little Red Hen. After the publication of a very successful first book, the Little Red Hen and her editor Tonto spent several years experimenting with a number of follow-up book ideas and a couple of failed overtures to literary agents. In one rejection letter, an agent told the Little Red Hen that if she didn't have a million followers on social media, she can forget getting a publisher to even look at her.

So the Little Red Hen tacked. (She was also a very able seaman.)

To boost her presence on social media, she hired a videographer and produced a series of videos to share on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other outlets she didn’t even read or have accounts for yet. Her readership did not exactly skyrocket immediately, but it was a start. People seemed to like them. She polled her readers and, with Tonto, set plans in motion to create a second batch of videos on topics her readers suggested.

LRH met with a new producer and worked with Tonto to craft video objectives, score original music, and other important preproduction tasks. But then, just as shooting was about to begin, that project stalled unexpectedly due to a cancellation, divine intervention, and a ridiculously high project estimate. The videos would need to give LRH a lot of traction to justify the expense… and to get traction, someone would need to spend a lot of time on social media promoting the heck out of the videos. Ew.

“Who will help me post things on Tumblr, Twitter, and Flickr?” said the Little Red Hen.

“Not I,” said the sleepy cat.

“Not I,” said the noisy yellow duck.

“Not I,” said the lazy dog.

Frankly, it didn't sound very fun to the Little Red Hen or Tonto, either. It turns out that neither the Little Red Hen nor her trusty sidekick gave a flying foofie about promoting videos on social media.

So, the Little Red Hen and Tonto tacked again. Well, actually they simply pulled down the sails and drifted peaceably near the equator, trailing their fingers along behind them in the warm sea while contemplating their futures and chatting idly about how to remove salt stains from leather shoes.

The Little Red Hen decided that maybe the real problem was that she wasn’t passionate enough about her ideas so far. Tonto thought that the topic wasn’t the issue, and that perhaps LRH was so focused on the product—scoring another big hit—that it was impeding her process. Tonto, who was a gifted Freudian psychoanalyst as well as crack editor, offered her diagnosis: Debilitating performance anxiety. A focus on the product, not the process, had created excessive anxiety and cloudy thinking. The patient is left feeling incomplete. Anxious. Impotent. Without an inspiring book topic.

The tragedy of untimely death is not the sadness of a failure to live but rather the resounding echo of unfulfilled promise. Parallel tragedy occurs when fulfillment is solely projected on the goal, and one misses the satisfaction gifted to us daily when we remember to enjoy the process of reaching toward it.

Readers, when the Little Red Hen was not planting seeds, cutting wheat, baking bread, or shopping for black and white oxford loafers at Cole Haan, she loved to write. Excuse me; not “loved.” Loves. Writing makes her feel alive. Fulfilled. She doesn't really care about social media. And yes, she likes books. She does. But books are the product. Writing is the practice. And the practice is what will make her feel complete. So says Tonto.

In a rare moment of New Year’s Day clarity, Tonto asked the Little Red Hen, “How about if you just write, and [expletive] everything else? The fulfillment of the writing life may be something so simple as doing it every day. Yes, the published work is the crowning achievement, and we’ll get to that… but the amulet to ward off writer’s malaise: daily practice. Everything comes back to this. So simple.”

The Little Red Hen didn't write back.


She did, however, send Tonto some really nice soap in the shape of Buddha’s head. Stop by. It smells great; she’s keeping it in the guest bathroom.  

~~~~~~~

Friday, January 1, 2016

Clean Laundry and Burdens Shared: Happy New Year 2016

Are we resolved? 

...to walk in the sunshine more?
...spend more playtime with our loved ones?
...to have more music in our lives?
...eat more healthfully?
...start writing regularly again? 
...waste less?
...declutter?
...to keep a cleaner home?

(Who's "we," paleface?)

For my dear friends who have told me many times that you miss those days when I was writing, I'm going to try again... Not necessarily because it's a New Year's resolution but more because who doesn't love a fresh start? January 1 is as fresh a start as we are going to get. 

Also, because I loved the connection we had. What we did was acknowledge our shared journey. That was fun.

So let's see... Where were we? Oh yes, practice. Ostensibly it was about practicing music, but really it was about practicing life... out there like undies on a clothesline, saying this:  

We've all got six baskets of laundry to deal with--total pain in the ass--but it's way more fun to fluff and fold if we sing together while we work.

With that in mind, let's get to work.

Are you singing? Good. I'm singing with you. Let's do this.








Thursday, October 10, 2013

Single Efforts and Butterfly Wings: Why It Matters

It is hard to deny that part of the reason we write is that we believe we have a story to tell. We believe that, against all odds, our voice matters. We write so that our ideas can be recognized. And we write because we believe it's possible for a small voice to have big impact.

Tonight, I saw it in action. I attended the 100th anniversary celebration of Roxbury's Hibernian Hall, one of the Irish dance halls featured in my See You at the Hall: Boston's Golden Era of Irish Music and Dance. I was invited to make some short remarks, and I also performed with in a small Irish traditional band that played a couple of numbers from the dance hall era. Other performers included a James Brown interpreter/impersonator and a drum group from Trinidad. Community Catalyst awards were presented to four artists in Roxbury whose work has contributed in critical ways to the cultural landscape of this inner city community, where generation after generation of immigrants have come and gone since the first three-deckers were built there in the 1800s, back when it was still considered the "outskirts" of town.

What I didn't expect tonight was that the Heavey-Quinn Academy of Irish Dance would perform their piece "See You at the Hall."  The piece had been choreographed by a well known Irish choreographer over a year ago, inspired by my book. Unbeknownst to me, the piece won seventh place in the 2013 World Irish Dancing Championships, held in Boston last fall. Never heard of the piece.

Before the dancers performed, a woman read a poem based on my book, and then read some passages I had written. Such a joy to hear my words read back to me by someone I've never met. Then, the girls danced an approximately three-minute piece that interpreted the story my book told, including danced interpretations of small but colorful details of a cultural environment that I myself had recreated after having listened closely to the voices of those who were there.

I cried.

The Heavey-Quinn School of Dance performing "See You at the Hall"
at the World Irish Dancing Championships last fall in Boston.
After they performed, I went backstage to meet them and all I could do was blubber. What a gift, to see this work interpreted by a younger generation—teens whose grandparents had met on that very dance floor, some sixty years earlier.  We posed for a photo together, then we had a chance to chat. They were all sunshine, bubbles, and frankly, just a little bit of wonder. (Oh, DO go on...) Their spirits were airborne. Palpable. They had read my book, and they had danced it. And now we finally all met in person. Such a thrill for me. And I got to model for them what it means to have an idea, follow through on it, and be happy. An author. Imagine.

The thing is, no one would ever have known the story of the Irish dance halls in Roxbury, if someone hadn't written it down. It would have just lived in the memories of a whole bunch of grandparents and it would have been forgotten within a generation. The book didn't sell a million copies, and I certainly didn't make a million dollars. But I contributed to a collective history of Boston and legitimized the experiences of a whole generation, who can now look on those good old days of dancing at Hibernian Hall as an important piece of Boston history and an important contribution to the cultural life of the city. They can say that what they did in their lives mattered.

And so can I.