My Kind of Crazy

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This week, I’m embarking on my second major tour of the West Coast following a successful run there last August. I’m thrilled to once again be joining forces with my dear friend and brilliant artist Blake Morgan, as we make our way from Seattle, Portland, Eugene, Chico, San Francisco and Crockett, all the way down to Los Angeles. Our motto for this run is “whatever happens, we’re gonna have fun doing it.” A pretty good motto for life in general, come to think of it.

I’ve never in my life been as busy as I am right now. Life is rich and rewarding, but also quite challenging, as I stretch myself to become the next “operating system version” of myself. It doesn’t happen without serious exertion and effort and I’ll be damned if I’m not gonna give it my all.

I’m aware that what I’m doing is uncommon. In the last few years my my music and my career have hit a new––and indeed higher––level. They’ve risen like freshly baked bread, together, and they’ve done so at a time in music where that is very, very rare. The artistic and musical choices I’ve been making have been met with an enthusiasm that I am so gratified by. And, it’s all built an entirely new structure and foundation in my life.

Touring is much harder and more unglamorous than most think, but it does have its magic. It can be illogical. Stressful. Unrealistic. Not normal. Sometimes even crazy. But, the rewards are not simply equal to the task, they are what stay with me, far past when the conventional inconveniences fade. So fuck convention. I’m resolved. I’m forging this path, and I’m armed and ready.

Interestingly enough, the current political climate is actually encouraging to me. In the face of oppression, my resolve has deepened even more. Forging this path feels not so much a choice, as a necessity. Picking up my electric guitar and driving thousands of miles in a car so I can play my music to people isn’t just an adventure, it’s an incredible way to forge a connection with others. It’s inspiring, motherfuckers. Ha! Yes, it’s crazy, I know. But it’s my kind of crazy.

I’ll Fight Till My Fists Sing

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This is quite a day to be writing my blog: the day of President Trump’s inauguration. By the time I release this post he will already be our President. I’ve made a choice not to watch his being sworn into office as seeing him in action affects me in an extremely negative way. I am repulsed by that man and the things he stands for, and I’m devastated that he now officially occupies the most powerful office in the world. Devastated is an understatement.

In the weeks since the election I’ve stopped watching the news entirely. I simply cannot stomach any footage of him, or the endless speculation, or the reactionary, sensational, and unhealthy state of journalism on TV. However, I’ve stayed informed via print media as much as I can handle, opting for sources I can trust like The New York Times, Washington Post, and some European print media to give me a different perspective. I also stay informed through a fantastic weekly radio show called Women’s Media Center Live with Robin Morgan, which gives me a decidedly feminist point of view on what’s going on in the world. I’m aware of what’s going on, but I’m protecting myself. There’s only so much of this political climate I can take.

Lately I find myself listening to more music, reading more books, watching more great movies. Limiting my time watching TV or scouring social media I’ve found more time for meaningful pursuits. In my free time I’m cooking comforting soups while listening to classic albums, and I’m more drawn to timeless, historically significant art than I have been in a while. In fact, art is an acute necessity for me currently, in a way that it hasn’t been for a while. In a world order that felt more safe to me, art still felt like a necessity. Now, it’s a means for every day survival.

I’ve been here before. My life was held afloat by music for most of my life. Without it I would not have survived. Only in recent years has it been a looser garment for me to wear. Now I’m again getting bundled up in it. If there’s anything positive that’s coming out of this awful situation the world is now in, it’s that. Great art is becoming even more important than it has been for a while, and I hope that respect for great artists will follow.

From today on, for at least 4 years, we have an authoritarian government in the US. And as we know, the first targets of any authoritarian government are journalists and artists. The war on both has already begun. I for one will fight President Trump and his goons however I can. I applaud all the artists who refused to perform at his inauguration. What a powerful message of defiance! The way I see it, we as artists have the responsibility to defend truth in times like these. When it comes to the inauguration––mission accomplished. Artists are not having any of this.

Tomorrow I’ll be joining the Women’s March in New York City, and in two weeks I’ll take the stage at The Bowery Electric again for my Artist-In-Residence Concert Series. For me these are equally potent forms of resistance. I cannot now differentiate between my world-view and my artistry––they are connected. They always were. It’s just that now some of the music that I’ve been writing has a different ring to it. It rings true, for this very moment. I’d found my defiance and my anger way before this President took office, and I’m grateful for that. I’ve fought against injustices in my personal life for a while now. I won’t shy away from fighting the same issues on a larger scale. I’m as ready as I can ever be for it.

An Unforgettable Year

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It is the time of the year where all the biggest celebrations of the year pile up for me in one week: Christmas, my birthday, and New Year’s Eve. It’s been a week of spending quality time with people I love, watching movies galore, eating and sleeping well, puttering, listening almost exclusively to medieval and renaissance music, and just recovering from a rich and busy year. My celebration-time looks decidedly different than it used to.

I feel weirdly like a traitor saying this, being that 2016 has been such a challenging, devastating year for so many of us for so many reasons. However, this year has undeniably been my best year yet. I suppose it says something about my past. I’m grateful that the last seven years of my life have each been better than the one that came before it.

This year I was rewarded for all the hard work that I’ve been putting into my life and my career. I had the chance to tour for a month in Germany, I performed a string of concerts on the US West Coast, and had the opportunity to play in the UK for the first time in my life. I also started my residency at The Bowery Electric and have written a bunch of new songs that I’m proud of. I made great strides as an artist on every level of my craft, and I can’t express how rewarding that has felt. I’ve also felt a deepening of all of my closest relationships and feel more stable and balanced overall, and also more powerful in my life than ever before. I’ve felt such abundance that I’ve even been able to nurture others in a way that I haven’t in the past. I also feel more confident in sharing my thoughts and beliefs, even publicly, without the fear of being bullied. I can stand up for myself now.

It is such a paradox to be feeling this utterly new sense of personal power at the same time as I sense the structures of society that we all live in bending and stretching, squeaking and creaking. What 2017 will bring is anybody’s guess. There’s a powerful backlash going on in this world against all the gains that humanity has made in recent years, and that is truly terrifying. But I feel hopeful nevertheless. If I’m able to come out from this year being able to say that it was my best year yet, anything is possible.  Come what may in 2017, I’ll be there for it. Present and clear in my mind, sober, curious, defiant, powerful.

Against all odds, may 2017 surprise us and turn out to be the best year yet, for all of us.

With much love and gratitude,

J.

A United Front

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Last night I had the pleasure of performing a couple of songs at a Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony at the women’s shelter at the Armory in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I’ve been going to a community meeting there every week for the last two years, so I felt honored to be asked to partake in the festivities this year. The women’s shelter has a special place in my heart.

The atmosphere of the event was warm, with heartfelt performances from adults and children alike, and delicious hot chocolate with marshmallows, yum! It’s good to feel like I’m a part of the community here. It feels essential right now.

The Armory has been a big part of my life in other ways too for the last few years, as I’ve been going to the YMCA, located in the same building, almost on a daily basis. Last week when I was there for my yoga class, something powerful happened. We were doing the tree pose––a basic standing balance pose on one foot, and the teacher asked us to close our eyes. This is quite challenging, and I for one can’t stand on one leg with my eyes closed for very long without falling. To prove a point, the teacher then asked all of us students to do the same pose again, but this time standing in line next to each other, placing our hands on each others’ shoulders. He then asked us to close our eyes once more. This time I could have stayed in that balancing position forever, even though we still had no support but each other. None of us were holding on to any steady object, but we kept each other steady, effortlessly. Despite not even knowing each other, we held on to each other.

That simple exercise taught me a lot about trusting others, and the difference between trying to do something alone versus doing it together. Ever since then, when I do a balancing pose, I imagine myself holding to the shoulders of others close to me. It helps me stay focused and it keeps me from falling, even when I’m having a wobbly day.

In that spirit I performed last night for the women at the shelter, many of whom are fighting hard to get back on their feet. Many of my close friends from my community also showed up in good cheer. I felt like we were all holding on to each other, finding balance in a precarious time. It’s heartening to sense the feeling of togetherness strengthening day by day in this city. Yes, it’s been a rough month for sure, but we’re coming together to stand as a united front.

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.