Posts tagged ‘music’

February 12, 2012

Whitney, Etta and Amy

Damn it. First Amy. Then Etta. Now, Whitney. Some heavy losses this past year have rocked us. Their bigger than life presence and unearthly talent have transported us to other places. That’s just the way it is with artists of the caliber of Amy Winehouse, Etta James and Whitney Houston. They sing our hopes, our sorrows, our joys, our rage. As women, they speak for us. The intensity and passion that they put into their music makes the singing of their songs a ritual experience for us. They know us. They cry our tears, and suffer our losses, radiate our joy.

Then of course, their personal lives become fodder for public criticism and comment. One day we watch in admiration, the next we shake our heads as their terrible vices are exposed in detail for all of us to ogle. We cringe at their awful imperfections, and some of us may judge. But how would any of us hold up in their position, having to bear the weight of freakish excellence? How would it feel to be known the world over for our abilities, and have to maintain that standard, year after year, despite the inner turmoil, the doubts, the terror we might be feeling? When would we just get to be imperfect or less than stellar, a little confused, or unsure, or maybe needing a break from being brilliant, without someone declaring we’ve lost it, our careers are over, we are yesterday’s news?

The fact is, most people can not bear that kind of pressure. That’s why there are so few who rise to the levels of these extraordinary women. And that is why we expect so much of them, because in some ways, they do it for all of us. They are the embodiment of so many of our secret wishes and desires – to be rich, to be famous, to be loved by millions the world over, to be so talented we can channel a level of the divine into our music, and tap into deep wells of joy and hope that inspire others to live up to that impossible beauty.

Yes, it is impossible, isn’t it. Almost as impossible as comprehending the vast silence that lives on in their absence. The death of a loved one brings a great, yawning emptiness where before there was life – chaotic and at times untenable, perhaps, but vibrant and full and impactful, nonetheless. My heart aches tonight for young Bobbi Kristina. Her life will never be the same. Her mother’s fans around the world may feel pain at having lost someone who moved them deeply with her talent, but Whitney Houston’s daughter’s life has been temporarily shattered, and she now must begin the hard work of putting it back together.

Is it unreasonable to propose that perhaps we need to be gentler with our cherished ones who entertain us out of the doldrums or stresses of everyday life? The ones who set the standards of style? The ones who show us what is possible with the human instrument and spawn generations of copycats, mimicking their unique phrasing and the peculiar ticks and timbres of the sounds they emit? We demand of them what we could never deliver, and then reject them when they do not sustain the impossible promise of perfection.

If we choose to turn our adoration into forgiveness, then we will be able to let these great women rest in peace, while the memories of their profound contributions to the world live on in the gift of music they have left us. Then maybe their surviving loved ones will stand a chance at healing from their personal loss. For we may have indeed said goodbye to another musical superstar, but tonight a daughter is mourning the loss of her mom, a mother is grappling with the death of her child, and countless other family members and friends are grieving deeply for the sister, niece, cousin, friend and woman they loved. Let’s send all of them some love, shall we?

October 8, 2011

Yom Kippur, A Day of Reflection

Inexplicable waves of irritability sometimes make it hard to tap into the patience that I value so highly. Then there are the washes of images from my life – faces of people come and gone that haunt me with possibilities lost… connections that were never made, potential for harmony never reached. The melancholy I feel is not from regret really, because all the mistakes brought with them great lessons. But I sometimes wish that things would have worked out better than they did.

I suppose this is a great place to be in for Yom Kippur. I don’t observe the holiday in the traditional sense. I don’t go to temple, I don’t fast, and I pray in my own way. And I think about how I’d like to forgive myself, and what things I’d like to change in my life, and how I could do better this year.

Religious holidays and rituals are, for me, not explicit instructions. They’re more like markers, indicating places and times where I could strive for a deeper connection with life’s mysteries. I prefer to craft them to my own needs and the current circumstances in the lives of my loved ones. If they’re not significant to us, then what purpose do they serve, really? Mere tradition as a rationale is no longer enough for me. Too many things have been done ad nauseum out of a sense of tradition, and they haven’t all worked out so great.

Another aspect of this holiday is to honor the dead. Kol nidre. We pray for their souls and remember them. This week brought the death of several greats – tech visionary Steve Jobs, civil rights leader Fred Shuttlesworth, and two years ago on the same day, my husband Ivor Balin Pannell. All great men, all visionaries in their own right. I am thinking about them and the way they lived their lives, the gifts they left to us in the form of their work, their words, their example. We honor them by letting them inspire us to do our best going forward.

This morning I’m listening to music. Moody, evocative songs being offered to me by my Pandora channel, mysteriously on target with my mood. Beth Orton, Eva Cassidy, Ray LaMontagne, Alison Krauss, Massive Attack, Coldplay… you get the picture. These muses channel the melancholy of bittersweet loving and yearning and feeling the prickly, sad dimensions of our happiness.

But this mood, like all, will soon shift. I won’t be sitting here in front of the computer all day. We’re preparing for a drive north, to visit an old friend, heading for a couple of days of joyful sharing and reminiscing and appreciating the beauty of the season. Time to turn this mood around!

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Today I ask for forgiveness for all the times I have lost my temper, reacted out of anger, fear or frustration. I pray for more patience, and an ability to live in greater harmony with the nuances of the moment.

Ivor Balin Pannell 1964-2009 RIP Sweetheart…

July 8, 2011

That Perfect Moment

I heard a new song yesterday. Trailer Park Boneyard, by The Coathangers. I’m not even sure how I found it. I think YouTube just threw it at me randomly after I watched something else. I checked it out. It hit me like a ton of bricks. This song is raw and inspired, and has one of the best guitar hooks I’ve heard in the longest time. I think I’ve listened to it about ten times since last night. I can’t stop. It’s stirring up something old and familiar in me that I recognize from back in the day.

These Atlanta girls scare and delight me. They don’t give a rat’s ass about being nice. Ha! I’m pretty sure in some folks eyes they are going straight to hell. This song, Hurricane is so eerily hot and sexy, I almost feel like I’m sinning just watching the video. When was the last time you let yourself go all out like this?

I remember this feeling. It’s powerful, anarchic, the kind of thing that could distract me from regular responsibilities and make me do very bad things. I thought it was the coffee I drank last night that made me so excited (been trying to quit, had a slip last night, might need an intervention), but I put Trailer Park Boneyard on again this morning and it made me cry. Remember the Sex Pistols? The Ramones? Blondie? The Slits? Remember 1979, 1980 when London and NYC were exploding with this new music that told the rest of the world where to go? These were not necessarily productive times. People got about as fucked up as they could on whatever they could find. Things got destroyed, broken, and many boundaries were shattered. Some stuff got rebuilt, some did not.

But you know… matter & energy – they might transform, but they do not go away. I may not be clubbing like I used to, and if coffee is my worst drug, well that should tell you what you need to know there… but I know these girls. Like I know myself. I still have these feelings, and they’re not all locked away. Now I watch my 8-yr-old son fling his body around the house when he hears music he likes, and yeah, he’s playing the drums a bit. And I like it.

Photo ripped from this review on

May 7, 2011

My Son, the Talent Scout

Last weekend marked a seminal occasion. It was my son’s first rock concert. I think eight is a good age to be inducted into the world of live rock music – your energy is off the chart, you have this urge to fling your little body all over the place, and mom knows you’ll fall asleep in the car on the way home, so she doesn’t mind keeping you out late on a Saturday night. So when I was invited to attend a fund raising concert for my friends over at Road Recovery, I thought, this will be a good time all around.

After a fun afternoon in Central Park, Josiah and I, accompanied by his best buddy Aidan and his mom, Orchid packed into my car and headed out to the Long Island campus of SUNY Old Westbury to the Maguire Theater. A group of bands were performing to raise funds for Road Recovery, a terrific organization dedicated to helping young people struggling with addiction problems and other adversities. Headed by founder Gene Bowen, a long time rock and roll tour manager and former out-of-control addict, they hook the kids up with professionals from the music biz who have been through recovery themselves, and get the teens involved in music production and live performances. It’s a great way to positively channel young, troubled energies into a productive direction within the music world, with guidance from those who’ve “been there” and are making it on the other side.

We arrived just in time to see the one band in the line-up comprised of Road Recovery alums, called Father and Son. I was impressed that these two guys, Tim on guitar and lead vocals (and such a sweet voice he has) and Ryan on drums (and occasional saxophone), could produce such a huge wall of sound. The impact on our boys was completely visceral, their response, instinctive. As if born to rock, their heads were instantly bobbing up and down, arms flailing on air drums and guitar, and they howled their pleasure at the end of each song. What a joyous sight to behold. I must admit, I sat there grinning like a fool for most of the set, enjoying the new found pleasure these kids were experiencing at their first live rock show. This was truly a moment to remember.

After the show, I sat down with Tim and Ryan along with Road Recovery VP Jack Bookbinder, to talk about music, recovery and life on earth. I was impressed to learn that these two young men, still at the tender ages of 22 and 24, have been sober and loving life since 2006. (Budding creatives, take note!) Their music is raw, ambitious, creative and totally rockin, with influences as disparate as Clutch and John Coltrane, trip hop and classical. Made me think of the art rock of King Crimson, or the raw, experimental fun of bands like They Might Be Giants when they were just getting started in the east village of 1980’s NYC.

Check out our conversation here. Note the sounds of the boys running around in the background. They had a whole two-story administrative building to themselves, and they probably ran at least 10 laps around that thing during the eight minutes of our interview.

Did I mention we have a drum kit at home? Yeah. I see my future, and it is a garage band…

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The next day, we went visiting with our cousins out in Brooklyn. Had another great day out and about, complete with a waterfront stroll along the semi-industrial route up to Dumbo. On the subway ride home, we watched a tall, stylish young woman get on the train and sit down across from us, decked out in a most funky, chic outfit topped off by this awesome necklace:

Josiah leaned over to me and said, “Mom, look at that great necklace.” So I told him that the woman wearing it probably made it, and why don’t you ask her?  He was too shy, but she was so friendly that I not only asked her if she  made the necklace (She did!!), but requested a picture, and you can see the result… I told her that I’d like to include her in my blog, and did she have a website or anything… Does she!!! Oh my, this woman is Kalae All Day, designer of jewelry and accessories, and the face of…  AND (as if that weren’t enough), she’s also a recording artist and performer. The name of her digital album, AFROMATIKNEOHIPPIEROCK​*​SOLEMUZIK pretty much says it all. Check out her stuff. You can tell her Josiah sent you…