music biz

Waiting for Harold Vick

I fell in love with recording studios the first time I stepped into one, so in the 70s I was always happy to get to hang out observing sessions after I’d finished copying parts for the musicians. One winter afternoon my client had booked Harold Vick, (who I had never met before), to add a solo to the song “Dream of a Child” on David Forman debut album  but at session time Mr. Vick wasn’t anywhere to be seen. So we waited. And waited. Tweaked David Forman’s vocal track, listened to some preliminary mixes. And waited. And waited.

90 minutes late, Harold rushed in to the studio. I can’t recall his excuse for being so tardy, or if he even offered an excuse. And I thought to myself, “buddy, you’d better play your ass off, after making everyone wait around so long for you!”

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Harold brushed the snow off his coat, got out his tenor, put on headphones and absolutely nailed it, first take. He was perfect. Turns out his contribution had been well worth waiting for.

Unfortunately, my client’s work on the album was thrown out and replaced by Joel Dorn. And although Harold is still listed in the credits for this album, there’s no trace of the gorgeous solo he’d played on the final release.

In spite of the album being virtually all ballads, Rolling Stone thought quite highly of it – even 40 years later. I can only imagine what they would’ve thought of the record with Harold’s solo!?

My old boss at E.B. Marks Music, Don Sickler agrees with my high opinion of Harold – he was head and shoulders (literally!) above the rest. Harold was taken from us way too young, but is remembered in Did You See Harold Vick? – Sonny Rollins – a 2-chord riff of a song that doesn’t evoke Harold in any way, other than mentioning his name. It’s the least Sonny could do, considering that Harold played rings around him, IMHO.  Here – listen and judge for yourself:

Harold Vick – Don’t Look Back

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growing up, Home, politics, self-acceptance

Why Can’t a Moose be President?

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I became aware of the “double standard” pretty early, but I was stunned when my dad explained dating once I hit puberty; he told me that many men see women as “pieces of meat”, as that had been his experience growing up and especially while serving in the US Marine Corps during WWII. In my early teens, I had a great deal of resistance to this idea; having read a lot of magazines, my head had been filled with romantic notions, aided and abetted by pop songs of the 50s and 60s. Even back then, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” sounded pretty innocent and non-threatening.

It often takes me a while to process difficult emotions, and this past year has been especially challenging in that regard. Like every woman I know, I’ve been sexually harassed, and although such abusive treatment has diminished in my advancing years, it’s still a fact of life which grieves me deeply, as I’d hoped we would have made more progress as a society in regards to treating ALL people equally and equitably. Alas, that has not been the case – a fact that has been rubbed in our collective faces, especially since Election 2016 when DT became PussyGrabber in Chief.

I almost wish I could just point the finger at “toxic masculinity” and leave it at that, but I think that having the inequities of our society in such bold relief, in regards to race as well as gender, has encouraged intolerance and contempt for one another. It’s no surprise to me that more people are coming forward these days with their stories of being molested – there have always been “dirty old men”, but as I feared, these men have become emboldened by the so-called leadership of our country. It’s now officially Open Season  on the female gender. What else can we do besides #metoo ?

I’ve recently taken comfort in revisiting YouTube videos featuring kinder, gentler men from my youth, the cadence of their voices and the kindness in their demeanor – men like Art Linkletter, (whose warmth and humor reminds me of my uncle Larry), Mr. Rogers, who liked you “just the way you are”, and my favorite, Captain Kangaroo  The Captain sang, told sweet stories, dealt with challenging cohorts like Dancing Bear and Bunny Rabbit – he even did his own housekeeping! And he featured the absolute BEST political candidate: Mr. Moose – whose campaign promise, “if you elect me, every American will have antlers! (or uncles!?) … and all of our friends will be bunny rabbits!”

Sounds a lot better to me than promoting pussy-grabbing.

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growing up, Home, Uncategorized

Where I Go In My Dreams

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Just as many people I know return to the classroom in their dreams, (usually for a test for which they haven’t studied!?!), I go back to places, real and imagined, when I’m dreaming;

NYC apartments where I may or may not have actually lived, that turn out to have additional secret rooms where I’ve never ventured.

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In my dreams I inhabit the extreme left side of this floorplan and have no idea of the existence of the rooms in the middle and on the right side… until I open a door and… there they are! Wow!

The Japanese garden in East Hartford, that turns out to still exist!

And my Aunt Helen’s house in Houston

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– as well as the house where she and my mother grew up in Rye, NY. The former is HUGE, on many levels, with beautiful sunlit rooms everywhere – and in my dreams, I can never find a bathroom!  The latter is remembered here, drawn by my mother’s hands and memories.

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This house was HUGE in comparison to the apartments where I grew up! I remember warm summer evenings after dinner; the swing on the screened-in back porch – large enough for at least a couple of us kids at once. And the backyard, so green and lovely, seemed to go on forever.

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The cellar was earthy, dark and mysterious, with lots of secret nooks.

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It’s not on this floor plan, but for ME, the MOST important part of the house was on the first floor – the baby grand PIANO!!  I love that my mother remembered where the marigolds and lilies of the valley were planted! She was a surprisingly impressive companion walking through a park or Botanical Garden – she knew a lot more about flora than you might expect!!G-House-2ndFloor

I haven’t figured out the significance of these locations, but they touch something deep inside me when I wake and remember where I was visiting during dreamtime.

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growing up, Home

Lunch at McPrison

Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 1.16.23 AMLike most people, I grew up with McDonald’s. The first one we visited was probably in 1963 on the Berlin Turnpike in Newington, CT. The novelty of cheap, fast food was thrilling to the Harris family; prior to McDonald’s’ arrival, we’d rarely eat out, and when we did, it was Howard Johnson’s, or the luncheonette counter at Kresge’s or Woolworth’s 5-&-10¢ store. So the economical menu appealed to both of my Depression-era parents, and even though we all knew it wasn’t exactly the most nutritious meal, it was such a treat!!  Long before the “you deserve a break today” jingle hit the airwaves, there was ♫♬”McDonald’s is our kind of place – it’s such a happy place! A clean and snappy place!” ♫♬ YOUR kind of place!

While I never made it a habit to eat at McDonald’s, I generally enjoyed it when I did, remembering fun times with my dad and sisters (Dad loved their coffee and was a real fan of the Filet o’Fish). Over the years, it became more of a “road food” option, especially on long trips; I stopped at a lot of McDonald’s on my cross-country road trips: FUTURE STREET tour ROUND TRIP tour. I did best ordering the “side salad”, which could be consumed without dressing while driving. As one of the Dollar Menu items, I felt okay ordering 3 or 4 at a time and skipping the sandwich and/or fries… (tho I always had a weakness for their hot apple pies.)

A lot has changed at Mickey D’s over the years – and not just higher prices and a more varied menu! I noticed the decor making a quantum shift from the familiar yellow/orange/red palette a while back when the corporation attempted to turn their outlets into “McCafes” complete with Wi-Fi.

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And then the backboard menu “came alive” with a frantically changing video menu featuring huge photos of the food in fast rotation with the names and prices of same, which made it much more difficult for economy-minded folks like me to figure out what we wanted/could afford to order!

The latest wrinkle appears to be in response to the rising minimum wage paid to fast food workers; the closest McDonald’s to our house has remodeled their outlet to a new design which apparently necessitates employing only half of the former staff. This remodel has an “industrial” look, to put it kindly; dark gray cinderblock walls interrupted by hyper-busy mostly black wallpaper surround the public area. There’s no background music, only the mechanical hum, buzzing and clicks of unseen machines. Frankly, the ambiance is dystopian, unfriendly and feels like… McPrison.

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Electronic kiosks shaped like giant iPhones stand like Stonehenge, available to take your order. In fact, this is the ONLY way you can order. Walk up to the counter and you’ll be turned away, directed back to the kiosks by the attendants, whose forced-cheery greetings sound desperate and reminded me of the little waitresses working at Raisins on TV’s “South Park” Since transactions cannot happen thru any other means than these kiosks, heaven forbid there’s a glitch and the computer ever crashes?! (We all know that NEVER happens, but if it does… well, No Soup For You!)

McDonald’s is probably not the first place most people think of when trying to lose weight, and yet the menus list the calorie counts for each food selection in large bold numbers, mostly obscuring the prices which don’t show up until another few click-thrus on the kiosk. Said prices on the big board (if you’re quick enough to actually see them while they flash around in a frenzy!?) don’t always match the kiosk prices. And, as you might expect with all this technological “progress”, ALL of the prices are substantially higher; a small hot fudge sundae that used to cost $1 is now close to $2.

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The acoustics of the room are weird; while many customers were buried in their smart phones, the ones who spoke to one another were clearly audible to everyone – so much for privacy. Every conversation we overheard was about how much they didn’t like these new, streamlined “improvements” to their McDonald’s experience.

I have to agree. While it was never a substantial part of my diet, I didn’t think that I would ever completely “age-out” of McDonald’s. But apparently that day has come.

New wall signs now limit customers’ visits to 30 minutes – then you’d darn well better vamoose! Lunch time is OVER! Back to your cell!

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P.S. Forgot to mention: GERMS!!! Consider all the HUNDREDS of grimy paws that will be using those giant touchscreen ordering kiosks each day… how many of us order and pay for our food and then run to the restroom to wash our hands BEFORE we pick up that hot burger or sample a few fries? Brother-in-law Dr. Tim Wolfram wrote this little ditty, and he should know – he’s a DOCTOR!! http://markwolfram.com/MrSUDzFrameset.html

 

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politics

Getting Past the First Chakra

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When I was younger, I was too involved in pursuing my music career (and love life!) to pay much attention to politics; I avoided it, actually – since I didn’t have a TV, chose to listen only to music on the radio, didn’t read newspapers regularly and didn’t care much for current events. I’d been broken-hearted by the 1968 election results and my time as a protester was very short…

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I marched against the war on Washington, DC, along with a million other students in November 1969 – but the Vietnam War didn’t end until “they” were ready to end it in 1973. 

and I didn’t vote until strongly encouraged by my husband in 1980.  Like many millions of Americans, even just a few years ago I could never have imagined that THIS clown would ever be even nominally the Leader of the Free World:

You'reFired!

Every day I see that more people are turning off the news due to overload on our current political climate. Hallmark Channel viewership surge  While we want and need to know what’s going on in the world, #45 and his colleagues continue to demand our attention with a daily assault on our country. Nonstop crisis is overwhelming and we need to reclaim our consciousness from these bullies.

What I’ve been feeling this year is a lack of safety. I know I can’t return to the 1970s, just tuning out the news entirely, but I want to cut WAY back on my consumption of the sensationalism that pervades our culture right now.

With the shenanigans going on in our government, no one can afford to be completely uninformed, but I know I’ve got to feel safer to explore the higher chakras, so I’m going to resist the clickbait and start tuning out more often.

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growing up, self-acceptance

Rewriting History

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“…contrary to what you may have heard or learned, the past is not done and it is not over, it’s still in process, which is another way of saying that when it’s critiqued, analyzed, it yields new information about itself. The past is already changing as it is being reexamined, as it is being listened to for deeper resonances. Actually it can be more liberating than any imagined future if you are willing to identify its evasions, its distortions, its lies, and are willing to unleash its secrets. “

Toni Morrison at Wellesley 2004

My mother spent a lot of time during the last years of her life sifting thru memories, looking for insight and clues to the meaning of events that had affected her; trying to understand, to make sense of it all.  I find myself doing the same thing these days – and am comforted by Toni Morrison’s commencement speech to Wellesley College 2004, where she rails against “adults being exoticized into eternal juvenilia” and “cultural vapidity” that appears to only have become more rampant in the past 13 years.  

I confess that in the past I’ve been quite critical of people who rewrite history; I’ve judged them as being guilty of denial, of being delusional, of sugarcoating reality. I used to wonder about this aspect of Christian Science when I was an active student – sure, it was helpful to reframe troubling scenarios in a more spiritual context, but wasn’t that cheating somehow?

I believed “what’s done is done” and there was no way to fix the mistakes I’d made in the past. But upon further reflection, I’m coming to see the wisdom of reframing what happened and the choices I’ve made. For one thing, it helps me to (re)view the past with compassion and kindness, towards myself and everyone else.  I now don’t think it’s too Pollyanna-ish to look for the benefits of any given scenario, and many things that happen can hold just such hidden blessings, if we’re patient and motivated to identify them.

Nobody has the exact memory that you have. What is now known is not all of what you are capable of knowing. You are your own stories and therefore free…

Toni Morrison @ Wellesley 2004

One of my biggest regrets was my relationship with an early boyfriend who turned out to be emotionally damaged and eventually became mentally ill. I met him when I was 17 and didn’t recognize the warning signs that anything was “off” about him. But over the few months we were seeing one another, I became alarmed at his fits of rage that erupted at random times for unknown reasons. The night he grabbed my arm violently leaving a nasty bruise, I knew that I had to break up with him. Initially he seemed to take it well, but then he began stalking me at school and broke into my home when my roommate and I were away. He’d become downright creepy, seemingly overnight. It wasn’t safe to love him any more.

The stalking continued without direct confrontation for 2½ years – I’d catch sight of his red scarf across the street or feel eyes on me when I was working in a practice room, but we never interacted. Then after I graduated, he disappeared, only to resurface a few years later by showing up unexpectedly and uninvited at my apartment door. The building doorman had to threaten to call the cops to get him to leave, and entreaties from both of my parents and their lawyers for him to stop stalking me were unsuccessful. I felt sufficiently scared at that point to take legal action to get him to leave me alone, which he managed to do for another few years.

But then he began writing letters. In spite of being reminded that 10 years had elapsed since the relationship had ended and being informed that I was now a married woman, he continued to send letters demanding me to return to him. Year after year after year, no matter where we moved, the letters would follow us. We contacted the Postal Inspectors and after they investigated and interviewed him, their legal advisors told us that he was disturbed and receiving psychiatric help, that he was harmless and should “get a pass”, to just discard the letters, since there was nothing they could do to get him to stop writing and sending them. So for many years, that’s what we did.

Over time the letters became more and more offensive, as he scribbled his rage and hateful comments on the exterior of the envelopes, making the most outrageous claims, (his version of rewriting history) and blaming me for everything bad that had ever happened to him. I began to think of the letters as “Hate Mail from Hartford” and saw myself as a victim as their delivery continued unabated. Some days I could handle it, but other times I felt overwhelmed and oppressed.

The toll this took was rather like Chinese water torture; while the mental dread was much worse than the actual pain inflicted, it also didn’t help that the authorities were dismissive of my complaints. After all, I was “only” receiving non-stop written verbal abuse from an obviously delusional man – how bad could it be, really? Compared to former boyfriends who went after their exes with guns and online revenge porn, nasty letters are pretty small potatoes.

Still, I wondered what the hell I had ever done to deserve this ceaseless abuse; as I recalled, I had treated him sweetly during the time we were dating. And I wasn’t cruel or insulting when I ended it; I had never made any promises of exclusivity or for a future together, and it just didn’t make sense to me that he was so fixated on a brief casual relationship that had ended so long ago.

I tried to rise above it; to take the higher view, to forgive him and see him bathed in white light. Since I feared him and resented his pervasive presence in my life, I couldn’t bring myself to actually love him, but I prayed for his healing. For decades I had shredded his letters or tossed them into the trash. On the advice of a shaman, I’d even tried burning them at the mailbox, so as not to allow their negative energy into the house.  I marked them “Return To Sender” and “Refused” and sent them back, reasoning that this was his bad juju and I didn’t have to accept it – and then he stopped putting his return address on the envelopes, so I couldn’t even do that. I felt more and more trapped.

One day on the way from the mailbox to the trashcan I noticed he had progressed to making death threats, which alarmed me enough to recontact the police and the Postal Inspectors. But follow-up with them yielded disappointing results; restraining orders would prove ineffective and the USPS didn’t want to get any more involved with him.  Turns out there had been many complaints about him from many quarters, as he was still writing to psychiatrists, nurses and caregivers who had retired and even died. He’d been cagey in his assaults-by-mail to everyone who had ever tried to help him over the past 47 years and avoided breaking the law, at least to the extent that the district attorney didn’t consider it to be worth prosecuting him. He was intractable and adamantine in his conviction that he’d been “done wrong” by anyone he’d ever met (especially me!) and we were all apparently going to hear about it forever.

To have an apparently unsolvable problem like this is something I’d never wish on anyone.  But in the course of all this drama, recently a couple of things fell into place for me:

I made the decision to see his letters impersonally – as “junk mail” instead of “Hate Mail from Hartford”. No one rails at receiving junk mail, after all – it’s just a fact of life, like robocalls, spam in your email inbox and commercials on TV. You just toss it in the recycling pile (after blacking out any identifying information), just like you push the mute button when that annoying ad comes on for the umpteenth time in the middle of your favorite show. It’s nothing personal. No drama. That helped some.

And then I came across the following:

I have breathed my way through so many people I felt wronged by; through so many situations I couldn’t change. Sometimes while doing this I have breathed in acceptance and breathed out love. Sometimes I’ve breathed in gratitude and breathed out forgiveness. Sometimes I haven’t been able to muster anything beyond the breath itself, my mind forced bland with nothing but the desire to be free of sorrow and rage.”

– Cheryl Strayed in her book Tiny Beautiful Things

Reading this passage the other day is what finally unfroze my heart re. this guy who’s been stalking me all these years. I realized that because of his abuse, I’d been partially adopting his version of the story on some level, instead of fully embracing what I knew from my own experience to be true. I understand that it’s not safe to be in touch with him now, I have no interest in his circumstances and it’s not my job to fix him. But I did love him back in 1970, the best I knew how, until it became unsafe to do so. I don’t need to deny that I loved him then to feel safe now.

“Although you will never fully know or successfully manipulate the characters who surface or disrupt your plot, you can respect the ones who do by paying them close attention and doing them justice. The theme you choose may change or simply elude you, but being your own story means you can always choose the tone.”

Toni Morrison at Wellesley 2004

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learning, music biz, self-acceptance

Career Advice 101

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Since I grew up craving to hear stories about how other musicians had succeeded in “the biz”, I always assumed that younger musicians and students might someday take an interest in my career trajectory. Alas, I haven’t had many opportunities to share my experience with very many over the years and as time passes and technology changes everything, my music biz life seems to be less and less relevant to anyone. Which is a shame, since it still fascinates me!  🙂

That said, my adventures were what they were, and I think I’ve learned a few things that aren’t totally outdated and actually apply to “the real world” as well as the music biz.

  • Having the desire and skills are necessary, but developing relationships with other people is absolutely essential. Nothing else will take its place. It really is “who you know” and who knows you and what you can do.
  • It helps to be a member of the clan – whether that’s ethnic, gender, age, education, sexual orientation, religion or whatever else sets you apart from the crowd.   Be aware of where you’re already included and exploit the hell out of it!

Believe me – Scientologists look out for other Scientologists and Berklee alumni look out for fellow Berklee alumni. “Birds of a feather” hire one another.

  • The music biz, like life, is not a meritocracy. (just look who’s occupying the White House these days!) Don’t waste time and energy bemoaning the unfairness of stupid music being championed as “great” – even those stars whose careers have withstood the test of time have to keep paying their publicists to stay in the public eye.
  • Once you’ve identified a gig/persona/objective you really want, stop asking for validation from your friends, family and mentors and just do it!

Upon graduation, I wanted to become a female Aaron Copland. When I recognized that I was more interested in songwriting, I did everything I could to write pop songs. A couple years later I was introduced to the jingle business and began pursuing that. Over time I began to build a sample reel, and when I was offered a full-time gig arranging music for advertising in Chicago, I didn’t consult with my teacher Hale Smith on the decision, as I thought he would probably not approve. By that time I was hell-bent on jingles and did not want any dissenting opinions on my next move!

  • You can only be who you are. It doesn’t pay to try to be anyone else. Your essential nature is what it is, and while you can strive to become “more outgoing”, for example, or “to have a tougher hide”, you’ll always be fighting your innate nature, and that’s exhausting in the long haul.
  • Listen to the “experts” but ultimately follow your own self-knowledge about your identity. Other people can point out your strengths and encourage you to consider new ideas but no one knows better than you do who you really are.

In the 70s I forced myself to make cold calls to get performing gigs, and I did manage to connect with a few booking agents, but they had their own agendas and were constantly trying to fit me into their idea of who I should be and what I should be doing – i.e. the booker who mistook my being heavy as an opportunity to get me to be a piano-playing Totie Fields– as if 25 extra pounds magically made me a comedian and not a musician!  She told me repeatedly how she could have booked me a lot more gigs if only I was funny, but at 22 years old, I took myself MUCH too seriously to fit into that mold – even if making people laugh is ultimately more rewarding than singing and playing the piano!

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FUNNY Totie Fields

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SERIOUS Marilyn Harris

 

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