I love music. We go back. 1983. 8 years before my parents separated. My dad had a fair sized collection of 45's. Two songs a side. I remember the artist labels, in mellow yellows and oranges, black standard font, 'Dion and the Belmonts,' 'Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons,' 'Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers,' 'The Platters,'The Monotones,' 'Jan and Dean,' 'The Beach Boys' etc. Doo-wop mostly. Nonsense phrases sung by men with piercing falsettos. On weekends my father would rearrange our living room into a dance floor and bait us out with 'Twist and Shout,' 'Who Put the Bomp?,' 'The Book of Love' . I twisted. I shouted. I wiggled. I laughed. The kind of shrieking belly laugh that only little girls can pull-off.
AND THEN THERE WAS ELVIS. I grooved on Elvis. Hard. I had a near life-sized portrait of him hanging on the wall of the tiny room I shared with my older sister. I worshipped Elvis. Elvis was beautiful. Elvis was King. I got Elvis. I get Elvis. Elvis flunked high-school music. I flunked high-school music. Elvis was a trashy kid hillbilly. I was a trashy kid hillbilly. Elvis was shy. I was shy. My father told me Elvis was a junkie. I threw a tantrum and refused to speak to my father for almost a month. Elvis died with his head face down in a toilet. Heart attack compounded by drug use. Elvis was broken.
My mother sang. She sang in church. She sang in choirs. She sang at weddings. She sang at funerals. She sang in festivals and jamborees. She sang the Oak Ridge Boys, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, Eddie Rabbit, Johnny Cash, Tanya Tucker, The Carter Family, Randy Travis, John Denver, Charly McCain, George Jones, Shenandoah, Marie Osmond, Alabama, Elvis Presley, Barbara Mandrell. She sang 'Dream a Little Dream,' 'The Rose' and Rainbow Connection'. She sang 'He' and 'How Great thou Art'. She played Country on guitar and Gospel on the piano. Together we would sit cross-legged in front of the tape deck listening to her latest favorites in Country music. She would cue me to pause after each phrase so she could transcribe the words to paper. She had a towering collection of binders; red, blue, green, purple. All full of hand written lyrics. Her penmanship was immaculate. She practiced routinely. The inside of her guitar case was a fleecy black and smelled of oil and leather. I started singing along age 4 or 5. I tried to match my mothers volume. I got schooled. I started to sing echoes and the harmonies I could find. 'I Fall to Pieces, ' 'Talk Back Trembling Lips,' 'Will you Lay with Me?'. My mother started taking me to her local shows. She costumed me in collared blouses, flower printed saddle skirts, bolo ties and cowboy hats. I was Gaspereau Valley's own hillbilly version of 'Shirley Temple' without the curls. My mothers reputation gleamed. I hated the bolo ties.
My Grade school music teacher Mrs Leslie had pale skin, soft, curly auburn hair and wore small rimmed glasses. She was overall kind looking. She smelled like Ivory soap. Her voice chilled and thrilled me. It claimed me. After school I would stockpile food and hole up in my room until supper. I would practice simulating her vibrato and try to replicate her tone. I would record myself on a ghetto cassette recorder and listen back. I cut my own Christmas album ala Mrs Leslie on a blank cassette and put it in my mothers stocking. I didn't know that her name would one day donate itself to future pages. I didn't know that her voice would betroth me to music. Mrs Leslie encouraged. She criticized. Lovingly. She convinced me to participate in the annual Kings County Music Festival. An occasion for competing schools to bear coveted colors. Gold. Silver. Bronze. A chance for me to hone my nascent performing talents. I entered the soloist category, ages 5-6. The music was predetermined and dreadful. I got stuck with a 'paint-by-numbers' song titled 'I Like Dogs'. The entire song was a breezy four lines of rubbish. I was a nervous wreak and completely forgot the words and the melody. I bombed. Twenty-five years later I can't get the damn song out of my head.
In 1983 the Mini Pops would cause a sizable stir in Canada. I hopped on the Mini Pops wagon with tremendous gusto. Popular music translated by freakishly beautiful prepubescent boys and girls. I ate it up. 'Fame,' 'Video Killed the Radio Star,' 'Message in the Bottle,' 'Morning Train (9-5)'. I started wearing my Sunday School leotards and my one piece bathing suit around the house. I sang into my brush and walked everywhere with a sassy swagger. I wanted to BE a Mini Pop. My wide-eyed kid-hood fantasies conformed me to popular culture and the same machine that I would eventually pooh-pooh. Time traveling to this particular memory forces me to reexamine my grown-up resilience to Brittany Spears and Justin Bieber. I get it. I can dig it. I was once a servant to the popular. It felt good. It felt guiltless. I am now a servant to fashionable hippie convictions. Now a days if I express 'pleasure' from fluff I feel shepherd into describing said pleasure as 'guilty'. Janet Jackson. Guilty. Madonna. Guilty. Mariah Carey. Guilty. Michael Bolton. Guilty. Ace of Base. Guilty. Shania Twain. Guilty. Rick Astley. Guilty. Boy George. Guilty. Wham! Guilty. Boys 2 Men. Guilty. New Kids on the Block. Guilty. My guilt bank is pretty full. I haven't made a deposit since JT.
Snapshots of my Wonder Years surface in random order. Church Performer. School Choir Member. Soprano. Caroler. Honor Choir Member. Scrooge in The Christmas Carol. Charlotte in Charlottes Web. CEO of Dance Club. Traveling Monkey. Kings County Music Festival Participant. Saxophonist. Hand Bell Choir Member etc. In school I stood out only as the loser with a big voice. At home I stood out only as a handy set of vocal chords. My skills transcended clique strictures but only until the show ended. Curtains drawn I would turn back into a shy, bucktoothed, pint-sized version of Cinderella. Nobody called me bright. I stood 2 inches tall most days. But I could sing. Singing was my immunity from full-blown loserdom. I started resenting my forte.
Summer of '93 I was withdrawn and pensive. I travelled to dark places. Paternal bonds had long been abraded. I was friendless and sad. I stole. I lied. I exaggerated. I put up roadblocks. I was shaping future material. I explored my body and my mind for answers. I found guilt and shame. I took comfort in Simon. In Garfunkel. I was a rock. I was an Island. I was looking for America. I memorized every lyric and gave S&G 24 hours of my thoughts everyday. I dissected. I plundered their words and reworked and recycled them as my own. I was snorting up the craft of songwriting. I needed MORE. Janis Ian. Jim Croce. Joni Mitchell. Bob Dylan. Led Zepplin. Carly Simon. David Gray. Eric Clapton. Bob Seger. Neil Young. Fleetwood Mac. Music turned blue. The minor chord encouraged self-pity. It was the perfect soundtrack for a complicated, lonely 13 year old.
Some shit went down in '95 and life got unglued. I ran. I was panicked and scared. I thought nothing good would ever happen again. I abandoned myself to wishful thinking. I landed on my Nanna's door step. The landscape changed but the narrative was iron-clad and undying. My soul was vandalized by teenage nobles keen on finishing me off. My high school music teacher failed me in composition and told me I had no aptitude for music. I started stealing my Nanna's smokes. I tried to drink my way into popularity. I was sucking in laxatives. I was skipping meals for days at a time. I wanted out. I pillaged my Nanna's medicine cabinet. I popped 15 Tylenols. I fell asleep. I woke up dehydrated and alive. The Music in my Head was gone. I wouldn't sing a note for six years.
Inhale. Fast forward. 15 years. 3000 miles. 20,000 indebted dollars of University education. A dozen addressees. A dozen jobs. 5 lovers. 3 faithful friends. 2 unsuccessful self-murders. An immeasurable tonnage of tears. 1 karaoke bar. 1 crucial conversation. The birth of Scarlett. The death of Nanna. 1 manager. 1 publisher. 2 producers. Too many egos to count. Running Red Lights. 8 No's. Zero Yeses. A bazillion gigs. A bazillion songs. Exhale. Present day.
I have strengthened my jaw. I can eat a punch without batting an eye. I've reconnected with my inner Mini Pop. I am okay with failure. I fit into myself comfortably. I have crashed the pity parties. I have impose limitations on my tolerance to bullshit. I have big feet and acne-prone skin. I am a better person by nightfall. I am absorbed. Vain. Goofy. Loving. Honest. Unforgiving. Obsessed. And I LOVE music. We go back.....we go forward.