Joyous Rage Against the Machine

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It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted my blog, as I’ve been digesting the new world order, along with everyone else, I’m sure. I’ve written a couple of ranty, political blog-posts that I ended up not publishing, just because I didn’t feel solid about them. I’ve learned that when I don’t know what to do, I don’t do anything.

Last night I did something though. At the second installation of my Artist In Residence Concert Series at The Bowery Electric, I channeled my emotions––my fears, frustrations, hopes, and anger––into music. It is the most powerful tool and weapon available to me to fight injustice, complacency, and desperation. That much I’ve understood. Music and song is my gift and my contribution, and it’s something I hold on to particularly tightly right now. Judging by the feedback I received after the concert, I was able to connect with people in the ways I was hoping to. I received a powerful wave of gratitude, relief, and love from my audience, who were experiencing many of the same emotions that I have been experiencing. It felt like the night was cathartic to us all.

In the last few weeks I’ve gone through my own process of trying to figure out what my place is in all of this. Will I make a difference by posting something political on my page every day? If I pick a fight daily on social media with someone who is unwittingly spreading harmful fake news? If I call my representatives every day about yet another insult to the country’s, and the world’s safety by a horrific appointment in the president elect’s cabinet? If I sign dozens of petitions? I don’t know the answers, but I’m making my own personal conclusions about what feels right to me to do. I can’t be coming from a place of compulsion and fear with this if I want to be an agent for anything positive.

It’s only been a couple of weeks since the election and already I feel the world changing. But with joyous defiance I sang Woody Guthrie’s “All You Fascists Bound to Lose” last night with Elizabeth and the Catapult, and Blake Morgan, and the entire audience at The Bowery Electric joining in. The people that want to control us want to make us think we’re alone. If we feel like we’re alone, we are much easier to control. Together, we are much more powerful, and much more dangerous. We are not alone, we proved that last night in NYC. Yes, them fascists bound to lose!

Never, Never, Never Give Up

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I’m writing this in an eerily quiet subway car, in a New York reminiscent of a dystopian movie called Children of Men that I watched not long ago. The city seems to be reeling from utter shock, disbelief, and grief. A crushed feeling, that I’ve never experienced before, even though I lived through 9/11 and the aftermath of superstorm Sandy in NYC.

On the night of the election I was lucky if I got one hour of sleep. Nausea was a steady companion for the first two days. But I’ve kept myself going, only allowing pieces of this devastation to enter me at a time. I recognize all the stages of grief: denial, bargaining, depression, anger, and even acceptance from time to time. They alternate at a speed that is hard to keep up with. And then there are the pangs of utter desperation, the likes of which I’ve never experienced before-–the kind that makes you want to throw up or even fantasize about death. So many of us are going through this right now. This is the hardest experience I’ve ever had to go through in my life as a sober, awake human being. It is that much harder living through a time like this as a person who understands the ramifications of what is happening. I was not awake and present in the George W. Bush years.

I feel scared, I feel terrified, I feel angry. But that, I suppose, is a good thing. It means that I care. And in the midst of all of this, today I was playing a hopeful melody on the piano. One of my own, and one by Kate Bush: “This Woman’s Work.” Music is to be my savior through all of this. As it has been throughout my life. A friend of mine, a wonderful artist named David Poe posted this on his page: THE NEXT 4 YEARS WILL RENDER THE GREATEST AMERICAN ART EVER. I was heartened to see his defiant declaration. That’s what we humans do. That’s what we’ve always done. Just look at the breathtaking pieces of art that remain from the Dark Ages. It is proof that the human spirit prevails no matter how dire the circumstances. I for one respect and clamor for the arts at this moment even more than I usually do. It is my healing potion.

On top of a devastating week, we hear that Leonard Cohen, a hero of mine since childhood, has passed away. For a number of years now, I’ve had his picture above my desk, for inspiration. I’m not about to take it down now. It will be a reminder for me of what beauty us human beings are capable of. And that we will prevail, and that we will fight for what’s right, come what may.

The future is uncertain, that is for sure. But I’m determined to put one foot in front of the other, even if I must live hour by hour for the time being. Having read the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence this year, I’m more connected than ever to the idea and values that this country was built upon. That is why, as I gazed upon the portrait of Benjamin Franklin yesterday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I was comforted, not discouraged. We shall overcome. But to overcome, we must fight for what is right. We must fight for sanity, for reason, for love, for kindness, for compassion, and for truth. And we must heed Winston Churchill’s advice to never, never, never give up.

Conscious Unselfconsciousness

 

About a year and a half ago I posted a cute video of my niece, then 6 years old, singing a song of mine in the car. We were on our weekly Skype-call when she spontaneously started singing a song (from my then just released record), and I was so moved that I had to film her doing it. It was a beautiful moment of connection, and I later felt compelled to share it. I did let my niece know at the time that I’d posted it, and she was quite excited.

While on my Skype-call with her this week, my niece was checking out my Facebook-page, and came across that very same video for the first time since I’d posted it. It was incredible to watch her expression change from shock to horror to shyness to fascination, as she decided whether she was actually willing to watch it in full. Curiosity eventually won. I told her that it was entirely up to her whether the video remains on my site or not. I naturally don’t want to embarrass her if she’s not ok with it. I find the clip adorable, but then again it isn’t me on the video, singing as a 6-year-old.

The episode got me thinking about how hard it’s been for me too, to watch my own performances or interviews on TV over the years. I’ve always found it quite uncomfortable to see myself perform or hear myself talk on screen. I tend to become ruthlessly critical of myself, and it’s simply not been a particularly fun experience. At what point do we become self-conscious in this way? My niece certainly wasn’t self-conscious at six years old. She would’ve just kept on singing, and would’ve been happy if the whole world was watching. Now, at 8 years old, it’s quite a different story.

This all being said, I’ve noticed that it’s becoming much easier for me to watch myself on screen lately. I think it’s a combination of many things: creating art that feels authentic to me, feeling more and more free to be myself–– to look how I want to look, and to say what I want to say. Naturally it’s much easier to watch oneself be real and present, rather than disconnected or artificial. Being able to watch performance footage of myself is an important learning tool for me as a performer, and I want to be able to use it for my own betterment.

Today I post a video of a recent performance of mine from The Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles. Patrick O’Heffernan from Music Friday Live! filmed my whole concert, and kindly sent all the videos to me afterwards. For the last few years I’ve felt like each concert has steadily been better than the one before, and this one was better than those that came before it. I felt quite proud watching this, and I have a deep understanding of how far I’ve come. I think that my 8-year-old self would dig it too.

Thoughts on the Craft

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I’m back in New York after an incredible week in the UK, where I performed in London for the first time in my life. London has always had a special place in my heart…I’ve even envisioned living there. That’s why these concerts were so special for me. Being on stage in London was literally a lifelong dream come true. My teenage self would be proud.

I’ve found myself growing enormously as an artist this year. Back in February, while performing 20 shows in a month in Germany, I was able to really focus on my craft. Performing night after night really shows you what about your performance is sustainable, and what is not. Some of my songs are about challenging experiences I’ve had in my life, and misguidedly, I’d kept reliving those experiences on stage, assuming that it’s my responsibility as an artist to “keep it real.” What I discovered in my first week of shows in Germany was that “slitting my wrists” so to speak on stage night after night was not sustainable, and was in fact very unhealthy. I wasn’t in the same place I’d been in when I’d written those songs. I was no longer feeling those hard things they’d been written about, or that I was singing about. But, I was nevertheless keeping myself stuck back in that place, and it was running me down. There’s a way to play songs you’ve written about complicated subjects, without unraveling yourself in the process every night. I came to understand that the story is already there––in the music and in the lyrics––I can simply perform the song, no explanations or over-dramatizations needed. People will connect to any music through their own experience, if they do at all. What I went through in order to write the song is actually irrelevant to the listener. How that song makes that listener feel for themselves, is what’s relevant. After all that I’d gone through, I found the thought liberating.

Following this powerful realization in February, I’ve been able to find a warmer, more intimate connection to my audience every time I play. I’m no longer blocking the access to my music by trying to recreate some stark emotion from the past. I’m using the emotions of the present. Holding on to the past in that way is really a crazy concept now that I think of it…after all, singing is not acting. I find that as a performer, these days I’m always trying to find ways to be more authentically me…if anything, I’m trying to simplify. To “try” less, and to “be” more myself. That’s why I found my performances in London so rewarding. So much of life goes into trying to fit in, trying to act the part, trying to fake it till you make it. This time I felt like I managed to have some of my most honest moments of my life on stage. In a city that I love, no less.

Who’s Gonna Tell The Wolf She’s Not A Dog

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Despite having written a blog-post for publication a week ago following my triumphant evening at The Bowery Electric, I found myself so disturbed by the news last Friday that I couldn’t bring myself to put it out. It just felt out of place talking about my excitement about a successful night, while a despicable recording of the Republican presidential candidate was being played over and over on TV. I was disturbed, shocked, and triggered by the tape and like countless other women, I was forced to relive innumerable scenarios from my past in which I have been taken advantage of as a woman. In the manner the candidate described, and worse.

I wrote about this very subject on my current record, Didn’t You, My Dear?. It was an album of empowerment for me, a process of taking my creativity back, taking my body back, taking my mind back, taking my life back. The society that we live in has condoned this behavior towards women from time immemorial, and the attitudes are so deeply ingrained that it’s often hard to even recognize sexist thinking in our daily lives. It’s insidious! However, despite the turmoil of this last week I find it deeply heartening that the discussion is now front and center. The candidate’s misogynist, sexist comments and behavior are dehumanizing and unacceptable, no matter how you slice and dice it. Once you see it, it’s hard to unsee it.

We women are over half of the electorate here in the US, and I’ll be damned if that deplorable human being gets anywhere near the White House. l for one will be voting my ass off on November 8. We are better than this. We are stronger than this. We are smarter and more powerful than we’ve been led to believe. No one in the world has the right to treat us like this. Because we won’t allow them.

Finally, I’d like to share a lyric from a song on my latest album. With that, I rest my case.

WHO’S GONNA TELL THE WOLF SHE’S NOT A DOG

I used to do tricks 
I used to run after sticks
I used to play ball 
With all you pricks

I used to lay down and die

I used to call you master
My collar bore your name
You used to own my body 
You used to own my brain

I used to lay down and die

But oh who
Who’s gonna tell the wolf
She’s not a dog

I was so well trained
housebroken and tame
I’d even fetch my leash
So you’d parade me around the streets

I used to lay down and die

Oh who
Who’s gonna tell the wolf
She’s not a dog

But you always knew
Didn’t you my dear

I call no one master 
I wear my own name
I own my own body 
I own my own brain

I used to lay down and die

Who’s gonna tell the wolf
She’s not a dog

The “Connecticut Muffin” Moment

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Man, I’m living the time of my life right now! I’ve honestly realized that I’ve never been happier. Things are simply looking up in every area of my life, and I’m immensely grateful for it! Holy shit, I’M HAPPY!!! Amazing..! I can see now that this is how a life changes––incrementally, one step at a time––and with hard, consistent work. And then one day you wake up to the realization that life looks and feels quite different than it did before. Lighter, brighter, beautiful. It’s a new day in my life, my friends. It’s a new day. Hard work does get rewarded after all.

I’m excited for my Concert Series beginning at The Bowery Electric this week. I’m excited to be exploring some older songs too in the coming months and bringing them back to my repertoire. It feels good, and right. I’m super-excited to be traveling to the UK in the middle of October to do some shows in London! Argh!!! So awesome!!! I’m also thrilled to be booking yet another West Coast Tour for early next year. Work is incredibly rewarding right now, and I’m grateful to have a wonderful, energetic group of people around me, sharing the work and this journey.

It’s amazing to be feeling this way. I realize that this too is a moment in time, and that it passes, but having the courage to share it is so important. Having the courage to really know it and feel it is important. I’ve made a point of noticing these moments with a couple of close friends of mine: those ordinary moments in life where you feel deeply connected, and together you know that it’s both special, and unforgettable. Knowing that whatever happens in life, you had that moment, and that you were present for it. Whatever happens next, there was this moment, and you acknowledged it. I call it the “Connecticut Muffin” moment, after having had this kind of moment deeply and for the first time at the Connecticut Muffin Cafe around my corner.

So, I’m having a Connecticut Muffin moment today! Whatever happens next, life is good––so good––right now. And I’m right here to enjoy it. Pictured above is me and my cousin back in the day, experiencing a Connecticut Muffin moment of our own. Notice my joyful hand! Good stuff.

A Big Moment

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a·dult
əˈdəlt,ˈadˌəlt/
noun
  1. a person who is fully grown or developed.
    “children should be accompanied by an adult”

Yup. That’s how I feel this week. Like an adult. Making adult plans, writing adult emails, making adult choices, and speaking up like a fucking adult. I love it.

One adult choice that I made––some months ago actually––was to start an Artist-In-Residence Concert Series in New York. And now the fruits of that adult choice are, er…coming to fruition. The premiere of my residency is now less than two weeks away! This is a real commitment, friends. This is me saying to myself (and to anyone who will listen) that I commit to creating a compelling, meaningful, and memorable experience repeatedly, every other month, at a great venue I love: The Bowery Electric. And, that I believe my audience will want to want to come back to hear more, and bring their peeps too! That’s how that shit works. I’m committed, and excited to push myself with this series to get to a new level. To build a scene. And yeah, I’m also feeling the newness of it. Pushing through to the next level in anything that one does is never easy. But I’m not expecting it to be. The process is intimidating, but potentially rewarding unlike anything else.

One of my favorite compliments that I’ve ever gotten came from a keyboard player, Federico Pena, who I worked with back in the day. He said that he always looked forward to working with me because I was a singer who always gave her all, even in rehearsal. I was surprised, as I didn’t have anyone to compare myself to (wasn’t everyone like this?). His point was that I never did a half-assed job of it, and I’ve really held on to that compliment. It means a lot to me. Sometimes I’ve been sick––even very sick, at times––both in rehearsal, and on stage, but it’s true: whatever I have had available to me at any given moment, as an artist, I’ve always given it my all.

So, in two weeks, on Thursday, October 6, I’ll take the stage at The Bowery Electric, and needless to say I intend to put it all out there. I’m planning on playing two brand new songs that I’m very proud of, which is always a BIG MOMENT. I’m moving forward, making new music, and it’s a thrill to be able to share that process as it’s ongoing. This is a grown up thing to do, I think. To take on a big project like this, and know that it will open new doors that I can’t even conceive of yet. Being brave, and taking the next step even when I don’t know exactly where it leads. Being an adult is cool.

Tickets to The Bowery Electric, here!

Letting Go of the Cactus

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I have an awesome, quirky, yoga-teacher from Mexico, who at regular intervals tells the following amusing story in the beginning of his class in his adorable, thick, Mexican accent. It goes something like this: 

A wise teacher was walking one day when he heard one of his students cry out to him… “Master, master, help me!” The teacher quickly rushed to the student, only to find him hugging a cactus. “Master, master,” the student cried, “Please help me, I’m in agony!” The teacher looked at him, and calmly replied, “Just let go.” The student then loosened his grip of the cactus and with his arms stretched out wide said “Ohh…Thank you master. Thank you!” 

Sure, it’s kind of a silly and simple story, but I get it.

I’ve started decluttering…gradually…as I’m beginning to prepare for a move to Manhattan, after 20 years of living in Brooklyn. This will be a slow transition––as moves go––and will not happen overnight, or even before the end of this year. But it is happening, and I’m very excited about it.

In the process of moving I’ll be letting go of a lot of baggage––quite literally!––and detaching myself from a lot of cactuses that I didn’t even know I was hugging. Stuff can become pretty sticky as it accumulates, and some of the stuff I own is just slowing me down. It’ll feel good to get down to the nitty gritty of what my life’s about, and what I actually need for it to work. As for Brooklyn––rest assured you’ll be hearing a lot about my love for it as this process moves forward. But I do recognize a moment when it arrives, and the moment is here. Taking this new, transformative step is the right thing to do. 

My unconscious mind is aligning with my conscious one, as for a while now I’ve been having powerful, recurring dreams of liberating myself. I won’t go into details as to the content of those dreams…I’ll simply say that I see myself “letting go of the cactus” quite regularly. And yes, it does feel so much better.

Ps. The pics are from a drive through the desert during my recent tour.

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The Summer Camp Feeling

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I’m back in Brooklyn, settling back into my life, having come back from my West Coast tour late Sunday-night. I’m having what a friend of mine calls “summer camp feeling.” That poignant feeling that one gets at the end of a powerful and intense experience…when you’ve been a part of a community, having some sort of adventure, and all of a sudden you’re supposed to go back to what’s normal––to go on with your life as if everything’s the same, when everything’s different. You’re different. And you just feel…out of place.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be back home. Touring really is exhausting! But it’s an incredible adjustment to go back to normal routines after doing concerts night after night, having great adrenaline rushes, dips and dives, living out of a suitcase, driving great distances, and staying at different hotels each night. It’s a mindfuck both ways. And mind you, this was only two weeks. This gives me much more insight into the lives of other touring musicians, business people, politicians, actors, dancers, troupes, troops, humanitarians, travelers, and whoever else does this sort of thing. I’m sure there are all kinds of tricks of the trade that one learns along the way, and I’m sure the transitions get easier the more you do this, but this is where I’m at right now. I’m adjusting.

That all being said, we’re already in the process of booking a similar round of gigs for the West Coast in early 2017! And I’m about to travel to England next month to do some concerts there..! Not to mention the fact that I’m starting up my bi-monthly NYC residency at The Bowery Electric on Thursday, October 6th! There’s a lot of amazing stuff going on!! I mean, this is EXCITING! This is…success! And I’m thrilled. I really am! OF COURSE I am.

But today I’m fighting a cold, and I’m taking it one moment at a time. I’m living a beautiful, inspiring, exciting time in my life, and I’m having a decidedly human experience of it. Being an artist is not just glitz and glamour, in case anyone was still under the impression that that’s what it is. It’s hard work, and it requires a great amount of emotional stability, psychological strength, and physical stamina. I’m in the process of replenishing my reserves, so I can do all of this again real soon. And ironically, I can’t wait!

Never a Dull Moment

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Day 13/14 of my co-headlining West Coast Tour with Blake Morgan. We finished the tour off last night at Capps Club in Kenmore, WA, close to Seattle. What a fantastic venue! Such good people, and amazing sound! It was a magical, intimate evening, in a worthy setting to bring this brilliant adventure to a close.

Currently I’m on my hotel bed, fresh from the shower and in my schlumfies, trying to stay awake in order to finish writing this post. I’m exhausted, and so is Blake. We’ve driven close to 2,000 miles on this trip, and needless to say that takes a toll. Not to mention our bonus adventures of driving through a post-apocalyptic scene in Northern California, the sky thick with smoke from a long-blazing forest fire, a shooting next door to the venue we performed at in Eugene (see Blake’s video below), and a blinding, torrential downpour while driving into Washington State… It’s been intense, in more ways than one!

We drove six hours from Eugene, OR to Kenmore, WA yesterday, with Blake at the wheel. He had woken up in the morning sick with a fever and his voice wrecked, barely able to speak. One of those fun surprises that one can encounter on the road… We brainstormed in the car as to how to manage the situation. Not wanting to cancel his part of the show and let down the good people who were coming to see him play, we decided that our best bet was for me to sing his songs as well as my own. He would perform a VH1 Storytellers-type of show, sharing stories and anecdotes about the songs etc., and accompany my singing on guitar and piano. Balls. But I’ve been listening to him perform these songs quite a few times now, and I was confident that I knew them well enough to do them justice. I said yes to the challenge.

I practiced some of Blake’s songs in the car, and we ran through a couple of them briefly in the hotel room, and in the green room of the venue. We printed out the lyrics, and in order for me to actually see them, I wore my glasses on stage, for the first time ever. Whoa! Blake prefaced the change in our performance plans to the audience beautifully, by evoking a hypothetical scenario of a younger Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, touring together in the 1970s…One day Bob Dylan gets sick and can’t perform his songs the way he would like to, and asks Joni to sing his songs that night, while accompanying her for her set and his own. (Blake said all this to the audience, while acknowledging naturally, that we’re no Joni and Bob, and saying that “a boy can dream…”) What a concept! That would be a special night indeed, and one that I for one would have liked to witness. Phrasing it like that seemed to go over well with the audience, and we felt a warm flood of support throughout Blake’s set. I sang my heart out, and I thought we played beautifully together, him helping me out by mouthing the words to me. It was intimate, raw, and vulnerable, and as he sang the last song of his set with me, we both had tears in our eyes. Goddammit, we pulled it off!

This has been a very successful run for me. I’ve made wonderful new friends, I’ve expanded my musicianship, I’ve grown in confidence as a performer, and I’ve sown some seeds for my music on the West Coast. I’ve also discovered that I’m stronger, and more shit together than I thought I was, or could ever be. I’m a tough motherfucker! I’m serious. I’m doing this for real!

So here I am, wrapping up the Thousand Ways to Die-tour. The name is not far off the mark..! But in the end, Blake and I are both alive and kicking, and we’ve killed it on this tour. We caught some good luck and we caught some bad luck, but I for one feel tremendously satisfied overall. This is what it’s like. Never a dull moment, my friends. Never a dull moment indeed.

 

Watch Blake’s video about Eugene HERE!