11 days left in 2017, 11 tracks on my 2017 CD, "A Message in the Mess." Follow this free, song-a-day mini-podcast countdown. CD available on itunes, spotify and this site.
I’ve always had incredibly vivid nightmares. As an artist, I learned early on not to take them for granted: inspiration is content and stories – even nightmares – are useful. Even the ones where I lose my voice.
like: What if I could never sing again? ... I mean. We sing before we can write. We sing before we know how to care if we’re bad at it. Children’s vocal cords are designed to let them wail for hours and never lose their voice. But my voice started flickering like a ghost, fading between life and death. And I was wide awake.
The doctor discovered a cumulative problem: an infection, acid reflux and overuse. I was mandated vocal rest.
True terror is not knowing if THIS NOW is the new normal. But it’s in moments like these when you realize how quickly we adapt. It was hard to stop talking ... then it was easy. I could smile without laughing. I could order my coffee EXACTLY as I liked it without anyone even noticing I did it in complete silence.
“The usual?” nod yes.
“Whip cream on that?” nod no.
“That’ll be...” and I hand them money.
Obviously it works best somewhere they know you. Still, it taught me two things: your relationship with your barista is sacred, and communication is not lost just because you lose your preferred method.
*if I cannot sing ....”
Observing my vow of silence, of course I thought incessantly about communication, and the incredible burden now put on my first sound. What would it be? That’s a lot of pressure, choosing a first word. Makes you kind of grateful we didn’t have to choose it the first time around, our eager parents staring at us, cam-cording, assigning meaning to our every mumble when we just needed to burp.
A word was way too much pressure. I started by humming,” THE WAY kids first sing to themselves.
***La dee da da da”***
The sound of my own voice startled me. And the analyzing started: do I sound the same? Does what’s in my head now come out differently or wrong? Is it muscle memory any more, or now – in this second life – would I overthink it all to death?
Unwelcomed or misunderstood, artistic expression seems worthless. Is it bird crap on the hood of your car, or a Jackson Pollock painting? It could depend almost entirely on the audience and the expectation. What if birds being scatological is actually underappreciated visual scat singing?
Once I seize on an idea like that while songwriting, I do research. Sure enough, Jackson Pollock died in a car crash, driving under the influence. That’s a rough story. But maybe it inspires another story where he was reincarnated as a flock of birds, drawn inexplicably to cars … and still trying to create his art, using whatever voice he had, whatever way he could.
***but there’s a message in the mess..”**
My song, “Pollock,” was the first written in my reborn voice, full of tangled references to verbal and visual and symbolic communication, as a human being-turned-bird might try to interpret flashes remembered from a past life. Ellipses. Telephone poles. Musical staffs. Paintings. Poetry. Morse Code. Slant rhymes. Songs.
When we arranged and recorded the song, we added yet another layer of communication, turning the birds into a string quartet, pizacattoing the most beautiful poop and led in flight by Zach Teran’s ambling, floating, bow-drawn bass line.
Obviously the line, “A Message In the Mess,” became central to this recording project and the CD’s title. To me, it encapsulates all the songs on the album. Each hoping they connect. Each an adjustment, a reaction where I processed some new normal. It’s what we are all spending our lives doing: Trying to sort through a pile of noise and experiences we’re not sure are good or bad or useful. I like to hope there’s something useful in all of it, and that I’ll always find some way to tell you about it.