family, growing up, politics, religion, Responsibility, self-acceptance

Terra Mater

C’mere, you big beautiful planet!!

I had a thought this morning when I couldn’t get back to sleep after waking too early – about Mother Nature’s intentions for our home, planet earth. I think she’s programmed us all to “be fruitful and multiply”, i.e. for everything that grows, flora as well as fauna, to KEEP growing and REPRODUCE for the continuation of Life. I see this every morning in my backyard; the lemon tree enjoys monsoon rains, greening up more and more every day, while the mourning doves cuddle together in their nest, and spiders spin webs, geckos race across the side of the house… Mother Nature DIGS monsoon-time in a big way!

Fair enough.

And perhaps our patriarchal society conspires to compel that by attempting to control women and FORCE them to be mothers or at least baby incubators. I think this is the belief behind the recent SCOTUS decision to rescind Roe V. Wade and criminalize/outlaw choice. 

Whether this is rationalized as “a divine mandate from God” or anything else, the bottom line is that Mother Nature is calling the shots. She decrees: Human beings are supposed to make babies, period. Everything else is nonsense and poppycock.

In grammar school I’d learned how the parasitic embryo took whatever it needed from the mother’s body; calcium from her bones and teeth, every other nutrient from her glands, muscle, blood… basically laying waste to the “host” for its own survival. I knew very young that I didn’t want any part of that! That was just yucky. Yet, in younger years, in spite of my conscious desire to remain barren, my hormones kept telling me to have sex, to get pregnant. I knew from an early age that giving birth was not something I ever wanted to do. Aside from the financial and emotional considerations, abortion was illegal so I chose to take every precaution to avoid popping out any “Mini Me”s.

Viewed in a certain light, using birth control appears to be an affront to Mother Nature’s insistent edict, and getting a tubal ligation or vasectomy is the ultimate insult; the biggest, loudest way to say “NO!” that exists. Both procedures involve surgery – cutting into the body, which is pretty drastic.

It might be different if society actually liked women. If collectively we supported and honored mothers truly – not just paying lip service on Mother’s Day, but holding them consistently in high regard. If women were genuinely accepted as essential to humanity. If women weren’t treated as 2nd-class, but true equals, with their own unquestioned autonomy universally respected and cherished.

It might be different if we treated Mother Earth with respect, instead of laying waste to her ecology, drilling for oil and mining for minerals; despoiling the landscape and the air and the water; polluting the food chain, creating toxic chemicals, climate changes… for what? So a few rich folks can get richer?

42 years ago I staged my own little “sit-in” with my lady parts. I’m still chewing on this, aware that I’m at odds with Mother Nature and disjunct in a way inside my own body = disembodied by my choice. The way I see it now is the same as how I saw it then; it was my only chance at survival.

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music biz, growing up, Jingles

My Married Man

It started out slowly and evolved as most torrid affairs do – into promises of everything you’ve ever dreamed of; connection, love, creative fulfillment, riches, recognition, inclusion and belonging.

“Beethoven” played synthesizer in a jazz band where I’d become the copyist in the mid-1970s and I soon became HIS copyist, as his reputation grew as a freelance arranger.

In the beginning, it was a pretty straightforward client-supplier relationship – he’d call, I’d go pick up the scores, run home to extract the parts and then deliver them to the studio – always last-minute. There was built in drama to the timing – will we be ready? can I get there on time? I always did, but there were some really close calls, when he’d still be writing the 2nd chart in the cab on the way to the studio while I was copying parts to the 1st chart so the musicians would have something to play at the start of the session.

He got plenty of work for pop and disco records as well as music for advertising. New to jingles, I was a little surprised and delighted to discover residual payments; after the initial TV and radio cycle, often ad agencies would continue the campaign using the same music, resulting in another payment for the musicians. When you’re self-employed, “money for nothing” gets your attention!

And then there were magic moments; when the musicians would yell out, “hey, Marilyn’s here! NOW we can get this party started!”, or the guitarist would hold my waist to steady me as I squeezed by the microphones to put parts on the music stands, or when the drummer and bassist would start dancing while listening to the playback. It was great to see pretty much the same fantastically musical guys pretty much every weekday, and watch them switch seamlessly from country tracks in the morning to funk grooves in the afternoon – their musical prowess was spectacular!

“Beethoven” was always the picture of casual elegance with his velvet blazer, tailored jeans, gold Dunhill cigarette lighter. He could “pass” in the business world but had bohemian proclivities; one time I came by to prepare music and found him preparing illegal substances and singing,🎶 “this is the way we chop our coke, chop our coke, chop our coke…” 🎶 Drugs added to the mystique, plus I think he grew to rely on them as much as his chain-smoking and alcohol consumption.

It seemed that he never turned down work, and got to a point where he needed help finishing scores; at first only horn parts, or a string voicing, or vocal harmonies, which I was more than happy to do. It was thrilling to hear what I’d written being brought to life by NYC’s best talent in the best studios. And he’d tell me to add $50 or $75 to my copying invoice. I could use the extra money and heck, we all want to be indispensable. Plus it was dramatic to see him “miraculously” save a session, to notice how impressed the clients were with the results, and to know that behind the scenes, I’d helped contribute to the magic.

What do you give the man who has everything? When his birthday came up, I wanted to get him a suitable gift – it was the only time I’ve ever shopped at Tiffany’s.

Over 4+ years, “Beethoven” was never my only client, but he was the most important one for quite a while. I’d check with him about what was on the schedule before accepting other gigs and I never left town if there was a chance he’d need my services. I was constantly reassured that I was an essential and irreplaceable “part of the team” that sustained his professional success. And that was easy to believe since I bailed him out time and again as he “bit off more than he could chew” work-wise.

Promises were made. While I knew I would never have the keyboard chops he had and I certainly never expected to be asked to play, I was a good sight-singer with choir and studio experience and the ability to blend in vocal groups, and I became frustrated that I was only rarely allowed to sing on sessions (potentially much more lucrative than copying or arranging music). It was confusing when what he’d promised didn’t match up with what went down, and I kept being disappointed when his actions didn’t match his words – much like the married man Carrie Fisher is hung up on at the start of WHEN HARRY MET SALLY. “Will he ever leave his wife?” Umm… no. At a certain point, I realized I was living a cliché.

Fortunately the stars aligned and a few things happened to secure my freedom; I’d taken a film scoring summer course at Eastman, and in my absence, “Beethoven” had found someone else to ghostwrite for him. Simultaneously I had an epiphany where I realized that if I didn’t stop working for him, I would hurt myself so that I wouldn’t be able to work for anybody. I had no idea how this would happen – I might get hit by a bus, or fall down and break my arm. I just knew it viscerally, and unlike so many other messages from my gut, for once, I believed it.

The kicker was when he called me again for a last-minute gig after I’d returned from Rochester. I rushed over to his apartment, but it turned out to be a false alarm – his wife told me that the session had been cancelled. Then she added 5 words that totally broke the spell: “You’re married to him, too”.

Whatever else I may have been clueless about, I knew for sure that THAT was not the case!

I hadn’t thought about him in a very long time but recently learned that “Beethoven” died a couple years ago; one of the earliest victims of COVID. And it stirred up a lot of feelings. At first I thought, “oh, gee! What a shame he’s gone.” But after only a short while, as the memories flooded back… hmm. Maybe not such a loss after all.

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excellence, growing up, learning, music biz, politics, Responsibility

Rabbis, Gurus & Mentors, Oh My!

Papa liked to play the ponies!

In the late 1980s my dad had a friend he called “the rabbi” – a man at the track who provided counsel on which horse to bet on and why. And Maharishi Mahesh Yogi inspired a generation to embrace Transcendental Meditation when the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and many others joined him in India 20 years earlier. While John Lennon later claimed that the Giggling Guru was a fraud, the impulse to Follow The Leader seems to be hardwired into human beings.

Giggling Guru & The Beatles

Anyone who visits my website meets my mentor Hale Smith; I could say that “he made me who I am today”, and while that’s not entirely accurate, he certainly had a profound influence for which I’m eternally grateful. 12-Step groups tell newcomers, “find someone who has what you want and ask how they got it” – and when I saw the career Hale had built for himself, I was in his face, demanding as much of his time and attention as I could get! Fortunately he had boundaries (and plenty of other students!), but I could see that Hale was the best, so being “like Mike” was my top priority!

I invested a lot in my relationship with Hale, but I didn’t feel entitled to his help and I never held him responsible when there were disappointments. I also didn’t go so far as to take up his habit of cigar smoking!

Which brings me to today’s subject: whose job is it to ensure employees are fulfilled in their jobs? When I read this article in today’s news, I started to wonder!?!

As a rule, I’m not a fan of essentially-one-chord songs, so I didn’t pay much attention to THIS one when it first came out. But it came to mind when learning of staff leaving the White House in droves because “we’re doing a lot of work but we’re not decision-makers and there’s no real path towards becoming decision-makers”. Ummm…. excuse my ignorance, but since when did it become management’s job to provide advancement?

The Declaration of Independence promises “the pursuit of Happiness” – but no guarantees! In truth, none of us are actually entitled to much of anything and the sooner we learn that, the better. Like so much else in life, career progress is self-propelled. It has to be a priority to the extent that one keeps working at getting around, over, under and through every obstacle. In my experience this takes energy, focus and steely determination.

To paraphrase John Houseman’s iconic ad for Smith Barney, “Happiness doesn’t grow on trees or march up and bite you on the behind… you have to EARN it!”

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excellence, family, growing up, music biz

A Major Award!

OH, yeah!!

I’m not much of a prize-winner – (one reason I don’t play the Lotto!)  Ten years ago I won a couple Toastmasters ribbons for fairly coherent Table Talks. And I won a trophy for Safety Patrol service in the 6th grade – essentially for good attendance, not because I’d saved anyone’s life or anything like that. The next year my older sister took home practically every award and prize given by the school when she graduated from 8th grade. Meanwhile I slumped into ignominy in junior high, receiving my first of several troublesome report cards. My dad was very nice about it – he even defended me to the teachers, but it was obvious I’d never be the superstar student my older sister was.

Competition was a fact of life in the Harris household – for applause from the outside world and for attention within our family. But at the same time that the quest for the spotlight was expected, it was also sometimes shamed and ridiculed. I grew up feeling somewhat ambivalent about such recognition, as it could invite jealousy and sneering contempt. 

Still, it’s gratifying to be acknowledged for our accomplishments; high school diplomas, college sheepskins, gold records, acknowledgement for one’s work being chosen in competition. Tokens of friendship, mementos of belonging.

not quite an Oscar…

It’s even become Big Business! Win or lose, these days kids get participation trophies for just showing up! 

no, we are NOT all “the best!”

When we got married, my husband had several boxes of awards he’d won on graduating from high school. The John Philip Sousa trophy. Outstanding Musician plaque. Awards for conducting, prizes for arranging, medals for performing, assisting, leading the section….   I honestly couldn’t believe how many there were – WAY more than the haul my older sis had!!

(And over the years I’ve learned how deserved they all were – how Mark had EARNED these awards and lived up to his potential – no, surpassed the expectations of his teachers.)  

I was overwhelmed, and once again felt horribly inadequate. I told him they had to go, that our midtown Manhattan apartment was too small to keep them, even tucked away in a closet.

Truth is, I was envious. I had never had my talents publicly acknowledged like that. I wanted those trophies GONE.

So we took photos of them and threw them in the trash.

Not my proudest moment. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t make that demand today.

THE “major award” from A CHRISTMAS STORY
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learning, music

Lemons In May

I am confused. I know very little about global climate change, but… lemons in May?? Somehow that seems a bit off-the-charts. Granted, these lemons are still pretty small and far from ripe – but in the 17+ years we’ve lived here, they’ve never appeared before autumn!

I’ve been a bit overwhelmed of late; the world looks less inviting on a number of fronts, and even the bees in the backyard seem to be giving me the stink-eye. I want to stay out of everybody else’s way, including the bees.

But look – apparently there are TWO seasons for lemon harvesting in Arizona!

Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony came on the car radio while I was running errands a few days ago and I felt like when I first heard it as a teenager, as it crashed over me like a tidal wave. Even though I was a music major, in all this time I’ve never made the effort to study the score to analyze why and how it had that effect – I just let myself get carried along for the ride. Perhaps it’s time to examine that score now.

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learning, music biz

Winkin’ Back

Last night I heard a lush, lovely recording on KJZZ by British singer Claire Martin; PURE IMAGINATION. Arranger Callum Au’s opening notes took my breath away, and though I haven’t been in communication with her for well over a decade, I visited Claire’s website and told her thru her portal how genuinely thrilled I was to hear her sounding so wonderful, and that even though her album SONGS & STORIES was released 2 years ago, it’s still getting radio airplay in the States.

Claire responded to me this morning: “You’ve made my day just when I was sure the world had gone mad.” And I agree; the world HAS gone mad, and I’ve felt overwhelmed and helpless in the face of the cruelty, hate, rage and violence of late. Long ago I marched in protest of wars, the attack on our earthly ecology, human rights, etc. but those days are long gone. Instead of believing that such efforts create change, I’ve learned from many attempts that my impact is limited to my own personal challenges, and I honestly don’t have that much of a handle on even those right now.

But my dad had a saying: “when I wink, I wanna see something winkin’ back” – and I know that I can do that, at least.

So I make an effort to let someone know that their music touches my heart, that their joke makes me laugh, that their writing resonates with me. I can wink back. It may not be much, but I believe it can make a difference.

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learning

Books Report

🎵🎶 “If they asked me, I could write a book…” 🎶🎵

C’mon now – everybody’s doing it!! (heck, WE even did it a few decades ago!)

I just finished reading Randy Rainbow’s memoir PLAYING WITH MYSELF – and it’s pretty much what you might expect: about as saucy and irreverent as he is. No huge revelations, nothing too surprising about his story; essentially he works his ass off to create his YouTube musical commentaries and is having the time of his life doing so.

I confess I got a lot more from reading Paul Evans’ HAPPY-GO-LUCKY ME – in part because Paul has had a longer and much more dimensional career, and also because we’ve had the pleasure of working with him and being friends for over 40 years.

There are any number of coaches out there who can guide an author on how (and WHY! ) to construct, edit, publish and promote their books. And I believe that while not everyone needs to tell their story in printed form, ALL of our stories are valid and worth the telling. Though it’s none of my business, I badger a few friends on a regular basis to get crackin’ on their memoirs – mainly because I want to re-savor their adventures, but also because, as my grandpa (and Hank Williams!) always said, “none of us are gettin’ out of this alive!” Let “the world discover” your story while you’re still here to set the record straight!

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Home, learning, self-acceptance

Dog Trust

When it comes to trust, I’ll almost always choose dogs over people. We recently watched an episode of the Netflix series DOGS, and I found myself judging Alana, the young military woman who had rescued a beautiful homeless puppy while based in Iraq. Her support system moved heaven and earth to bring Jet🐾 home to Boise, ID for her, before her latest deployment was over. Everyone involved gave their all, especially Tara, the woman who fostered Jet back in the States. It was heartbreaking to see Alana ultimately return Jet back to Tara, his foster mom, but I also found myself thinking, “what’s wrong with Alana that she can’t handle Jet, after ALL these people went to such lengths to bring him back home for her?”

Granted, Alana is a single woman in her 20s who had never had a dog before, and a lot had happened to both Alana AND Jet while they’d been separated. Jet had grown into a much larger dog, and after being held in quarantine and moved halfway around the world, whatever bond they had originally had was broken – on both sides. Neither Jet nor Alana were the same people they’d been when they’d met, and they just didn’t trust one another!

And then I began to feel guilty, as I realized that we’d had a very similar experience just a few years ago. In May 2019 we rescued a pair of beautiful mini-schnauzers but the chemistry had been “off” pretty much from the get-go, and they’d never bonded with us OR our other pups – so after 10 days we chose to return them to their foster mom! We were inconsolable, but Elke & Dana never relaxed around us, and we could never relax around them. They wound up being adopted by a different family and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Sometimes it’s nobody’s fault – it just is.

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growing up, learning, music, music biz, politics, self-acceptance

A Curmudgienne’s Gratitude List

Not to go all-Pollyanna on ya, but here we go!

I’m grateful to have been born an American, and to still “thrill to see Old Glory paint the breeze”.

I’m grateful to have dear friends and family in my life, who listen to my concerns and respond with honesty, reason and loving support.

I’m grateful to have most of my original body parts, and not to miss the ones that aren’t there anymore.

I’m grateful to have my own row to hoe and not be held responsible for the dreadful state of rest of the farm.

I’m grateful to have experienced breathtakingly beautiful music. ❤️🎶🎵🎶🎵🎶❤️ And to have created and recorded some of my own that I’m still proud of.

I’m grateful I can still laugh when I hear blatant lies. Sometimes. Other times, I’m grateful I can still cry.

I’m grateful to have eluded COVID so far, to still be able to smell horse manure and to still have the agility to DUCK when it’s comin’ at me!

There! That wasn’t so bad, was it?

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music biz, politics, music

Nothing Personal – It’s Just Business!

The older I get, the more I understand THE GODFATHER. I first watched the film by myself after moving to NYC in 1972 and still shudder recalling my visceral reaction to certain scenes. The Corleones had no compunction about imposing their brutal “justice” on anyone or anything that stood in their way.

Since then I’ve noticed as life became less “friendly”, with fewer instances of kindness and compassion, especially in the corporate world. As technology progresses, people feel more connected while in reality living at more of a distance. This somehow seems to make previously unsociable behavior more accepted among many.

A couple months ago I got a notice from google that a website in Russia was illegally hosting almost 50 of my recordings online, without permission or payment – available for free to anyone and everyone to stream or download. When I went there to check it out, I noticed that the quality of the recordings was substandard (i.e. worse than most mp3s), but I know there are many people who literally can’t hear the difference, and to whom it wouldn’t matter even if they did; the most important thing to them is that the music is FREE!? I did some more snooping around the site and found that a couple dozen of my musical colleagues had much of their recorded catalog similarly posted for free on this website as well.

Initially I felt panic – and then anger! Who are these Russian thieves to steal our music and then give it away for free to people all over the world? This practice breaks international copyright law, for starters; at the very least it’s bad karma! And with the political situation being what it is now, it isn’t as if our government is going to jump to aid creators, as was done with napster 20 years ago! No one is going to dare threaten Russia to defend our rights at the moment!? They’re too busy trying to avoid World War III these days!

I don’t know the solution to this conundrum; I’m frustrated at the injustice inherent in the situation but don’t want to work myself up into a lather over a problem that has no apparent solution. After much consideration, I’ve decided to allow this to remain unresolved, to acknowledge that it exists; it’s an unpleasant fact of life. And it’s not “just business” – to me, it’s also personal.

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