After I released my third recording project "Restoration" in 1998, I spent the subsequent two years being shopped around for major label deals by my lawyer (who is no longer my lawyer). By early 2000, I was exhausted by the process and I realized I was not going to be "allowed" to say certain things if I got signed and certainly would not be "allowed" to be who I am--namely an out lesbian.
I was told time and time again that because I wasn't doing "black music" they would need every possible leg-up in marketing me to potential artists. While they believed that I would be big and that my songs were hits and radio friendly, they were not convinced that I would be embraced as a lesbian black girl playing folk/pop music on acoustic guitar by a big enough audience to make it worthwhile.
In January 2000, I fired my lawyer. He said that this would make it impossible for me for ever do anything mainstream again and that all of the contacts he made for me were going to disappear. I said fine.
I immediately went to work compiling all the socially aware songs I had ever written and wrote a few more in the process. I wanted to put out something that was akin to a musician's Declaration of Independence. I had been oscillating between being indie and mainstream that I wanted to be clear about my decision.
While doing some research on political artists, I ran across Patti Smith's Radio Manifesto. I had read it before but this time something struck me. This was a reaction piece she did on not being able to say fuck on the radio. She does a lot of word reconstruction in it (e.g. dog/god rat/art) and, while reading, I saw that Radio was an anagram of Doria and decided to title the compilation "Radio Doria".
The title was not only meant to be a nod to Patti (one of my biggest influences by the way) but it was also meant to be ironic since none of the songs would be "radio friendly" I went into the studio that summer and released "Radio Doria" on election Day November 7, 2000.
A few months after the press coverage of Bush's "win" died down, I finally started to get some press for it. 80% of the time I was asked, "Why are you so angry?". After a while, I started answering, "I'm not angry. I'm awake. Also, these songs aren't gratuitous. This is artistic social commentary based on what I actually experience in the world as an out black lesbian female. These songs are in the tradition of Gil Scott Heron, Odetta, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith and even the Clash. I believe folk music is punk music. And, I have a question for you: Why don't you ever ask Eddie Vedder or Eminem why they're so angry?"
Fast forward to 2013...
In response to the recent shenanigans in DC, I'm doing a whole set dedicated to my "political" songs. I'll be playing older ones but I have 3 never released songs on the set list as well one of which I've never even played publicly).
I hope you'll join me for a cathartic night of music and folk mayhem.
Gore Vidal has passed.
I loved his writing, I loved his wit, he was charming and irreverent and just about the smartest writer I've ever come across. And, I should say "love" in the present tense because his work is not gone thank goodness. I raise my glass and my pen to one of my influences, who said "Just write" the way Nike says "Just do it", who showed me that my brain and my heart are "muscles" to be stretched, flexed and pushed to and beyond their perceived boundaries--whether those boundaries are self- imposed or heaved upon us by society.
He said: "We must declare ourselves, become known; allow the world to discover this subterranean life of ours which connects kings and farm boys, artists and clerks."
These are words that I take seriously every time I sit down. My writing is like a big game of "connect the dots". Whenever I really feel the pull to isolate a feeling or thought or event on paper, I am almost always looking for some form of a common denominator. And, even then, I'm not necessarily looking for an answer to a specific question but, admittedly, some sort of resolution--or maybe just to "scratch an itch" prickling at the edge of Wonder.
What I've learned from all the writers that I've admired (even envied?) is that I am a witness. That is my job and that my point of view is a tangible and valid thing even if the world says it's not or, even worse, doesn't even acknowledge its existence. In the latter case, they've taught me that my heart is my audience and that should be enough and the barometer by which I should measure the breadth of my offerings.
So, I’m saying “goodbye for now” to yet another giant in my world and forever promise to “bleed my thoughts into the ‘skin of immortality’ (the blank page) through the written word”.
I have demons. They like to fight a lot. One tries to convince me daily that I need to embrace technology. That I need to parcel out my music life into edible "bytes" so that I can have more fans, more exposure, more for more's sake.
The other demon pulls me the other way. Gently reminding me that I'm an artist. That writing, learning new instruments, sitting all day pondering the secrets of the Universe is my real call to duty. I need only answer to my Muse.
What they don't know is that I also have an angel that balances them out and silences them when I need to get certain things done.
Take, for example, my latest CD "Blackeyed Susan". It is a study in balance. A few years ago I came to the conclusion that I would never put another jewel case on the face on planet if I could help it. That I would not add to the monumental, mostly unchecked trash heap that comes from the music industry (literal and figurative).
So, I embarked on a journey to create something that was not only beautiful but also practical, something tangible in a world now woefully dependent on virtual friendships, interactions, et al.
I succeeded. The final product was more than I could have ever hoped for.
I could smell the sweet smoky scent of the wood the boxes are made of the minute I opened the shipping crate.
I could feel the grooves of the burned image on the cover.
I could hear my fingers scraping over my guitar strings, my wedding ring popping along the neck of my banjo, a squeaky chair during a particularly long take and all the other unedited moments on the recording.
My senses were satisfied and my creative demon was soothed...for awhile anyway.
During the entire process, my digital demon was poking at me, reminding me that I had to get it on CD Baby, that I needed to update my Reverb Nation page, that I needed to tweet about more than my laundry, that I had to find a way to get this "out there" by any means necessary.
As soon as it was done, the voice grew louder and more persistent, asking questions about shipping costs, press kits, media events to announce its arrival, etc.
I knew I had to answer and put the Muse to rest so I could handle business. And I did. I spent weeks, posting links to every possible on line outlet, fielding questions from fans hungry for something new from me (this was my first project in 5 years), visiting the neglected and ghostly forum of my Myspace page, packing boxes to ship, re-stocking local stores, running, running, running...
Then my angel stepped in again and hushed all that beeped, buzzed or or just plain bored me so I could take a deep breathe and retreat to the world of journals, guitars and long days of "nothing".
Maintaining balance is not always easy and I struggle with it everyday. It is both an art and a skill. It is a challenge that I willingly face and hope to master. Until then, I'll let my demons duke it out and hope my angel does her job.