Mercy, Mercy Me….
Wow it’s February 2013 and I just realized that I haven’t blogged since July of last year. Damn is that right?? I’ve meant well y’all…I started a whole lot of blogs about a whole lot of important topics. But I just didn’t like the way they sounded and never hit that “publish” button. I would rather not say anything at all than to just keep yapping about the same old stuff everyone else is yapping about. I know that’s not how “artists” are supposed to do…we are supposed to keep our yapping out there so people will stay interested. Yawnnn…lol. But you know I gotta be me and it just wasn’t working for me.
Seriously though…up through the end of December I was overwhelmed. My musical endeavors kept me spinning along with my impending day job layoff, sick relatives, and the usual mommy stuff we all have to deal with rendered me blogless. LOL But here I am now so let’s go…
I feel it’s important as an artist (and human being in general) to give something back to your community and the world. While I do frequently give what I can I really wanted to be able to do something with my music as well. I know there are a lot of important music charities out there but I really wanted something I could be a part of and experience on my own right in my hometown. I’ve spent quite a long time looking for a LOCAL organization that strives to make a difference while using music as the means to help others. And as it so happens with all things I’m looking for, the perfect organization crossed my path at just the right time…
Through the magic that is Facebook I bumped into Robin Fay Massie-Pighee, the director of Musicians of Mercy. I’m not even sure what the first event was that she posted…maybe Patterson Park or the Jubilee Arts benefit. But it was an open call for musicians to donate their time/talents for a show to raise money. Something drew me in. Maybe it was the fact that once I emailed her to inquire about being a part of the show she responded in all caps and exclamation points!! “YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!” I would soon learn that this is no act or internet persona…she really is THAT exuberant in real life!
So Musicians of Mercy, (MOM for short) seemed to be the organization that was a good fit for me. They don’t give to just one cause, they respond to whatever needs are out there at the moment both local and worldwide. MOM raises funds for humanitarian causes through the production of benefit concerts. All performers volunteer their time and talents in concerts that are open to the public at little to no cost. MOM showcases a variety of artists…solo performing artists, chamber ensembles, jazz combos, spoken word, and a full orchestra. It all started when Robin learned of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and wanted to do something to help. Maybe that’s what I connect with the most. So many times I’ve wanted to do something but didn’t know where to begin. She just grabbed her viola and jumped in!! I admire that! I know this is a labor of love for Robin and all the musicians involved and quite frequently she has to pay for some of the expenses associated with doing these events herself.
I’ve performed for a few Musicians of Mercy benefit concerts and I always walk away feeling blessed to be a part of such a great group of artists coming together for a common cause. Truthfully I always wished I could do more. And my wish was heard with an opportunity that presented itself in an unlikely situation.
QueenEarth asked me to accompany her for her set as a part of the World AIDS Day event at Creative Alliance. After the show we were approached and asked if we would like to have a concert in the spring. We were told we could have a few acts together and select a charitable organization to donate part of the proceeds to. After some late night brainstorming at the Double T Diner, meetings over chicken wings and whiskey, and gmail conversations, we had a show and a charity!!
So with that being said, on Thursday, March 28th 8-10pm at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore, instead of Musicians of Mercy having a concert to benefit another charity…WE are having a benefit concert FOR Musicians of Mercy! Brooks Long and The Mad Dog No Good, QueenEarth, and me, Janice B. together on one stage! It won’t be 3 feature acts…we are performing together!! It’s gonna be a blast! Proceeds from the ticket sales and 20% of CD sales that night will go to Musicians of Mercy to help them continue with their humanitarian efforts.
I’m really excited and blessed to be able to have this opportunity to perform alongside such amazing artists and great friends while giving something back with our music. As my circle of love widens, the blessings continue to flow. I hope you will join us on March 28th!
Check the following link for details:
Facebook event page:
For more info on Musicians of Mercy:
Love and light,
I was kind of MIA on the music scene in April. Actually I was MIA on a lot lof scenes!! LOL I sort of took some time off from things. Of course there are responsibilities I can’t walk away from, but I needed to step back and look inside for a bit. Before I go on about that let me tell you this story…..
I remember this doctor’s visit like it was yesterday. I was scared. I just knew I was dying. Here I was in my mid 20s, unable to make it up the steps to our 3rd floor apartment without crawling. I was weak and exhausted. We would go out to dinner or a movie on my occasional night off and half way to the restaurant I would feel like I was going to be sick. Chest tight, short of breath, nauseous. I didn’t feel that way at work. I worked long shifts mostly on my feet as a retail store manager with payroll cutbacks and a whole lot of extra work. When I was working I was “on”. Constantly moving, constantly aware. When I got home I could hardly walk. I thought I surely have some awful disease.
So I braced myself for the doctor’s diagnosis. He did all the usual tests. Then he asked “So what do you do to relax?”. Uhhhhhhh I had to think. I said…“Watch TV?” He informed me that this wasn’t really relaxing. I started listing all the things I thought were relaxing and he shot me down each time. Then he asked, “Do you ever just sit and do nothing?” HA!!! Hell no. I didn’t. My mind was always racing. There was always something to deal with. Yeah I might be off work but at any moment someone could call me in the middle of the night and say that the store had been broken into and I would have to go back in. Or I would think I was getting off work at 6pm just to find out someone couldn’t work their shift and I would have to stay until the store closed. I was always on edge…always on high. So I had to admit that I didn’t know how to relax. I didn’t know how to do nothing. The doctor said, “You know…stress can kill you.” Then he asked, “Can you give me just 10 minutes a day?” I had no clue what the hell he was going to do but I agreed. Surely I could do 10 minutes of whatever horrible treatment he had for me. He pulled out a prescription pad and wrote down, “The Relaxation Response” and beside it “Dr. Herbert Benson”.
A book. He wanted me to get a book? For real? He briefly explained how the relaxation response works. That when we are under constant stress, with constant chatter in our minds, our body is in “fight or flight mode”. We are always operating in a panic state. So in turn when we are in a place where we should be rested, like going to dinner or a movie, our body doesn’t know what to do…it doesn’t know how to be calm. Enter the panic attack. This is what was happening to me. The Relaxation Response was designed to counter that “fight or flight” mode. It gets your mind and body used to what it feels like to be calm and at peace. So when something stressful happens, your body remembers how it’s supposed to be and doesn’t panic. At the time I thought he was nuts. Several years later I would learn this is the basic principle of meditation. When I think back to that doctor’s visit I have to say, I am impressed. He could have prescribed a million types of drugs. But instead he gave me a prescription to heal myself…to change my entire way of living….by focusing inward.
Without giving you a big detailed description, the Relaxation Response is basically sitting quietly with NO distractions. You pick a word or saying that you will repeat to yourself over and over. You first relax all of your muscles and then you clear your mind of all thoughts that come into it. Easier said than done but with some time it really works. You breathe in and when you exhale you say the word you have chosen..you can speak it or just think it to yourself . You do this naturally with each breath. 10 minutes a day to start. It worked for me back then but like any other treatment, once you start to feel better you tend to stop doing it.
So fast forward to April 2012…..at the beginning of this past month, I had to admit to myself that almost 20 years later, my body was going back into panic mode. I had long since abandoned the Relaxation Response and hadn’t even practiced yoga like I used to do regularly. And now, April 2012, I could feel the results of this. Although I felt peaceful inside and my blood pressure was normal, I was layering on the “stuff”. I have lots of stuff to balance and carry and handle. I’m not going to list everything….if you know me you know my day to day adventures. And most things I don’t even tell people about because let’s face it…we all have “stuff”. Just stuff to deal with….one thing on its own isn’t so stressful…..but we carry on and keep moving and keep layering more responsibilities, more “stuff” on us. Sooner or later you are gonna fall. Sooner or later you have to put some of that mess down and just be still or you are going to get sick.
With this in mind, last month I did just that. I put a whole lot of stuff down for a while. I couldn’t clear my head. I couldn’t focus. I was edgy. I was exhausted. I was in physical pain. And I had to do something. I was in the mountains for a few days early April and it was there that I revisited the Relaxation Response and meditation. I sat on the deck in the sun in lotus position (this position with your legs folded under you works for me because I won’t drift off to asleep lol) I purposefully let everything leave my mind. It’s not easy. But as the thoughts floated in….I let them float back out. I can be so still that I can’t feel my hand sitting on my leg. I can hear the wind in the trees and the birds chirping but they are distant sounds. Your breath is a part of the rhythm of the world around you. When you stop and look inward everything changes….the way you see yourself, the way you see the world, the way you see others. You stop reacting and start observing.
When you have a quiet calm place to go, when you visit it often, you start to carry it with you. The day to day stress is lighter. The burdens are lighter. This quiet place is inside all of us. I think some people are afraid to go there. Because when you stop the chatter in your head and it’s just you and silence, sometimes people don’t like what they see. Sometimes it’s hard to face the truth of why you need all that distracting chatter in the first place. But I think that’s even more reason to go there. That’s the first step to changing what you don’t like about yourself and the world. It starts inside you. You can keep looking for a remedy, keep taking pills to calm you, blood pressure meds, etc. Or you can numb yourself with drugs and alcohol. Or you can keep being miserable. But the stuff is still there. I think with the state of the world today we all have some chatter going on…we all have some stuff that we need to put down for a while and just be still.
It is said “prayer is talking to God….meditation is listening”. You can make focusing inward a time to listen to God if that’s what you choose. Or it can just be you and the universe..you and your breath/heartbeat….however you decide to perceive it is up to you. You can meditate, you can pray, you can do the relaxation response….but the result is the same. It is a peace and stillness that is the center of everything. Once you are able to go there your world will change.
Here’s a link for more info on The Relaxation Response: http://relaxationresponse.org/
Until next time….
Love and Light,
Let me start by saying this wasn’t the blog I planned to post today. But as usual, something happens that irks me and I need to vent. So here I am. Several of us have been chatting about this topic on Facebook but let me explain what happened.
In short a fellow female musician was discriminated against.
My friend Missy Smith aka QueenEarth has been performing at local farmers markets as a part of her spring/summer performance schedule. She recently spoke to the woman in charge of the Briggs Chaney Farmers Market about being considered for a performance slot there. For those who don’t know, Briggs Chaney is a very diverse area of Silver Spring, Maryland. The website for their farmers market shows pictures of people from all walks of life, all colors, races, and cultures. It even states that they are sponsored by a group that is working to strengthen the community and celebrate the diversity of the area.
I’m telling you this because apparently the female manager of the farmers market has no idea about their mission to celebrate diversity. Missy sent her the usual letter with samples of her music. The woman responded and told her that the one song, video clip actually, was inappropriate. She actually said, “I love your music and your voice but the content is inappropriate for a family venue.” Missy had to ask her what song she was referring to since she couldn’t imagine what song would be offensive to families. She was referring to the song “Supermodel” in which Missy is talking about courting another female. Now I know the song and I’m actually learning the background parts so I can accompany her when we perform together and even I couldn’t imagine what was so offensive.
Here’s the actual clip for your review:
Missy explained to her that she often tweaks her song sets to accomodate the crowd. We have all removed profanity or suggestive lines from our songs when children are present for example. The woman said that they didn’t want to “shake people up” or ”change anyone’s minds” as if hearing a lesbian sing will make all of us heterosexuals uneasy and have us switching up our sexuality. Ridiculous. Does it make gay people uneasy when I sing about a man? Missy pressed her for more of an explanation and asked, “so you are saying that if I was singing this song to a man it would be okay?” and the woman said “yes”. Missy politely withdrew her application to perform.
When Missy told me about this last night I was amazed that someone could be so arrogantly discriminatory. Amazed and pissed. What really got to me was not so much that this woman was a homophobe or racist or whatever she was. She could have easily replied to Missy that there were no performance openings available or not even responded at all. But she actually chastised her for sending the video clip of the song. She said that she was “surprised that she sent that clip to promote herself” as if Missy was wrong for representing herself and her work honestly. That perhaps had Missy hidden the fact that she was openly gay, she would have been accepted as a performer. Look it’s no secret that Missy is gay. I know her girlfriend and they are both open and honest about who they are. But neither one of us has ever gotten up on the mic and said “Hi I’m gay” or “Hi I’m not gay”. It’s simply not an issue in what we do and how we perform. And I would venture to guess that our friends and fans don’t give a crap either. And are people at farmers markets really hanging on a singers lyrics like that when they are buying organic tomatoes?? Really? It’s gonna “shake them up”? C’mon….it’s 2012 right? Aren’t we past this bullshit?
So I slept on this mess. It even woke me up once. I know you are probably asking why. I’m not gay. I wasn’t the one rejected. It’s not about me. But to me this type of casual discrimination is dangerous. “Hi we don’t allow gays, blacks, whites, women, etc to perform here.” If you speak that from your mouth then you practice it in your life. And if you practice it in your life you are also practicing in in MY community. MY life. It is most certainly about me. It could easily be someone saying we don’t hire female perfomers. As a matter of fact that happens quite frequently here in Baltimore bars. And it’s wrong. And I can’t sleep on it.
So I decided to write a letter. Look I know that people with a mindset like this woman’s probably won’t even care about what I have to say. But being silent wouldn’t be right to me. I’m not a political person. I don’t picket and protest. But wrong is wrong. And as a fellow artist and musician (and fiesty scorpio) I just couldn’t let it go. I had no intention of posting this. I’m certainly not looking for any kudos. I just think that the only way to combat this discrimination is to call it out when we see it. To say we will not tolerate this in our community. It might not change peoples minds but it will let them know that they are not the majority. It’s not okay.
I’m posting this letter at the recommendation of fellow artist and musician Teporah who also composed her own letter to the manager of the farmers market. She said I should post it for others to read. So here it is:
I am a singer and songwriter here in Maryland. Like most local independent artists I work very hard at getting exposure and new gig opportunities. It’s not easy and we often do this all on our own. I was excited to learn that some of my friends and fellow musicians were now performing at some of the local farmers markets. What a great idea to encourage the performing arts at an event where there are often socially conscious, open minded folks shopping to support organic farmers, community artisans, local vendors etc. I have friends living in Briggs Chaney and I know what a diverse community it is. I can see from the pictures on your farmers market website that the customers and vendors represent many cultures, races, and age groups. It’s a great place for an artist to perform.
However knowing this only deepens my disappointment to learn that you would not accept my good friend and fellow musician QueenEarth (Missy Smith) as one of your musical acts. It is my understanding that it was because of one song she sent you in which she sings about another woman and that you felt it would be inappropriate for the farmers market crowd. I believe you said it could “shake things up”. I truly cannot understand such a decision and quite frankly as an artist it frightens me.
I suppose it’s not necessary for me to go on and on explaining what an amazing artist you are missing out on or to list all of the songs she performs that touch so many people that have nothing to do with anyone’s sexual orientation. And besides that she is also a supporter of local businesses, farmers markets, a teacher and mentor to many, and an amazing person. I can’t imagine anything coming out her soul being deemed inappropriate. We quite often perform together.
I respect that you are in charge and it is your right to determine who is a “fit” for the audience. But I also wonder if your diverse market, vendors, and community share your views. I’m quite sure you have some gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender folks there in the community. What’s really sad is that they have no idea what they are being denied access to. They didn’t get a choice. They don’t get to experience QueenEarth. And I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I sang Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” or Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” in the material I send out for gig consideration. Would I be deemed a lesbian and inappropriate? How many gigs have I been denied because someone placed judgement on me and didn’t think I was right for the crowd? And even more upsetting, as a listener and a consumer, how many great acts have I missed out on because someone didn’t think I would find it appropriate? I’m also confused since your website states that you are sponsored by IMPACT Silver Spring. Their mission statement on their website speaks of strengthening the community and celebrating the diversity in the area.
While I accept that this email will probably not make a difference or change your views, I felt compelled to speak up. You might feel it has nothing to do with me. I am not gay. I wasn’t rejected as a performer for your event. But I am a part of a huge circle of local musicians and artists who are affected by these decisions. On a personal level being deemed inappropriate is hurtful. As an artist it goes against everything we do. Music is healing and all inclusive. We reach many people. We unite many races, cultures, and sexual orientations. We also often use the internet and social networks to reach our fans. Missy and I have over 3000 friends and fans combined on social networks and music websites. Many of those people are local. And those friends/fans in turn can decide if a farmers market that would exclude a performer based on sexual orientation or the wording of one song is a farmers market that they will support. Like you they are free to choose.
Love and Light,
So yeah….I sent it. Of course she hasn’t responded. That’s okay. I just wanted her to know that her little dismissal of one artist affects a lot of people. Guess I can get some sleep tonight!
Here’s a clip of me performing “I Remember” with QueenEarth on guitar: http://youtu.be/3l3fgUR18RA
“To know what is right and not do it is the worst cowardice.” ~Confucius
Until next time….love and light…
I used to keep a gun in my house. A revolver.
I knew how to use it even though I hoped I would never have to. Even if someone was breaking the door down I would hopefully be able to escape without having to shoot someone. But the fact of the matter is when you own a gun you have to also own the fact that you might be responsible for taking someone’s life. Some people think that sounds easy given the right circumstances. But most people who think it is easy, people who think that they could easily shoot someone who was trying to harm them or their child, for example, have most likely never even held a gun. They have no idea what the decision to point a gun and shoot someone brings with it. It should never be easy.
I am familiar with and have respect for guns because I grew up with them. My father was a DC police officer and later homicide detective. He also used to hunt for food. We had guns in the house. I knew where they were. I knew how to use them. My father instilled in me that guns are dangerous weapons and that thankfully he had never had to take someone’s life as a police officer. He said that a good police officer should go their entire career praying they never have to take someone’s life. And that it was a burden that no one should ever have to carry. But he also said that you never ever pick up a gun and aim it at someone, human or animal, unless you are ready to accept that burden. If the possible harm to you is greater than the burden of taking that life then you will have to live with that choice even if you feel justified in making it.
I’m talking about guns because I wonder what was going through the mind of George Zimmerman the night he chose to aim his gun and shoot Trayvon Martin. Like pretty much everyone I know, this case is weighing heavily on my heart these days. It seems the details of that evening keep changing as more witnesses emerge, so even as I type this there may be new developments. But going from what I know now I’m curious about the mental state of a grown man out in his car, carrying a gun, looking for “suspicious” people. I’m curious as to why a 17 year old child of any color walking down the street in his neighborhood would appear suspect. And like everyone else I wonder what in Zimmerman’s soul made him believe that he could go out that night with a gun, cruise the neighborhood, stalk this boy, antagonize him, and take his life? Who gave him that right? Did he understand the weight of that choice?
I know we are all outraged about the actions of the Sanford police department that night. Even if Zimmerman was being attacked and beaten when he decided to shoot that gun he should have still been detained for questioning until the facts emerged. “Stand your ground” law or not….basic common sense procedures were ignored. And given the fact that they KNEW he was following the boy. They KNEW he was going after Trayvon. It was clearly premeditated. If he had stayed in his car and reported the “suspect” this would have never happened. A child would not have been shot and killed. Black, white, asian, whatever. The police failed us. I know people are pointing to the racial aspects of this injustice making it a black vs. white issue. I don’t know if the police were racist and I’m not even sure that Zimmerman is white. But quite honestly I’m saddened that this is becoming a race issue. Because even though there could be a racist motive here, WE as human beings need to be united in this.
This is about humanity. This is about valuing another’s life like you value your own. The truth is, Trayvon is my son. He’s my brother, my child, my friend, my coworker, my neighbor. How many times have I gone out in the rain or cold to get the mail wearing my husband’s hoodie pulled tightly around my face? You can’t tell my race or my gender. You can’t tell if I’m “on drugs” or planning to commit a crime. And what if my neighbor is not mentally stable and decides to shoot me because I appear suspicious? What if it’s my son as a teenager walking home from school? What if it was my producer MoRece who walked down Calvert Street in the rain wearing a hoodie just to come to my show at the Baltimore Book Fair to support me? Truth is it could be any of us. Yes Trayvon is OUR family.
But here’s the difficult part. Zimmerman is our family too. He’s someone’s child. We may be sickened by his actions and feel hatred in our hearts for what he did, but he is still a human being. Since his actions were handled improperly and he wasn’t detained by the police we don’t know yet what his story is. We don’t know if he is sick or what his state of mind is. But whether we like it or not he is one of us. He’s that person who clutches their purse closer when a group of young black men walk by. He’s those people who hate the Korean ladies in the nail shop because they just know they are talking about them. He’s just like that uncle who doesn’t trust white people or that cousin who says “there goes the neighborhood” when a black family moves in. He’s just like those of us who judge by the exterior or by the prejudice we have formed in our hearts instead of looking at each person as a unique individual. He’s those of us who still don’t see that we are all in this life together. There is no black or white or asian to that. We were created by the same force. We were put here for a reason. This is who we have become. And only WE can change it. I know this blog won’t change much. But this is so heavy on my heart that I felt the need to say something. I continue to see the racial division on social networks over the Trayvon case and others like it. I continue to see the black vs. white and “us vs. them” mindset and it makes me sad. For whatever it’s worth, I pray we can rise out of this together.
I no longer own a gun. Before we adopted my son in 2009 I removed it from my house and gave it back to my father. I know that while I AM able to shoot someone to protect myself or my family, I also know that as a mother I am NOT able to carry the burden of taking the life of another mother’s child. I’m a different person now. I know I don’t want to ever have to make that decision. I live with peace in my life and in my heart. My father taught me well.
As for my father, the retired police officer and former hunter…..he now feeds the deer from his back deck. He is 83 now. He has names for them and saves up old bread so that he and my son can feed them when we visit. He no longer hunts. He told me he doesn’t think he has it in him anymore. He has changed.
Me too Daddy. Me too.
Love and light….
“The only constant is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”
— Isaac Asimov
Ahhhh change. Lots of folks fight hard to avoid it. They hold onto bad situations out of “comfort” and fear of the unknown. Fear of what will happen if they let go and move on uncertain of what tomorrow will or won’t bring. It might be a relationship that isn’t working but hey it’s much easier to hold onto it because the alternative is being alone. Or maybe it’s a project that someone won’t give up on because they’ve put too much time and money into it even though it’s becoming a complete disaster. It can also be someone’s appearance. They are desperately trying to stay “young” and refuse to accept Mother Nature’s little touches on their skin and figure. And some folks are just plain stuck in a time warp. They retain the “look” they had at the highest point of their lives. You’ve seen them…the ones who still have the same style of hair and dress they wore in high school because that’s when they were the happiest, the most popular, etc.
I will admit that in the past I have been there many times. (except for the hair…that changes all the time lol) I’m someone who doesn’t like to give up on things. When I put my whole heart into something it’s very difficult for me to let it go and move in a different direction. I feel guilty; I feel like a failure, I feel like a fool. And in the past I would rather feel all of those things than face the possibility that letting go might bring something better. Taking that leap is some scary shit. The fall might kill you or it might be exhilarating and change you forever…but nothing happens till you take that first leap. Over the past years I have learned that in order to grow as a person and an artist, I have to be willing to step out on blind faith and follow my dreams. When I do what brings me joy everything else falls into place. I left a job that was paying me well but draining the life out of me. It was scary at the time but it wasn’t scarier than thinking about how sick I would be if I stayed. No amount of money was worth it. I was also in a difficult position with a musical decision a long time ago and I had to decide was I going to stay there and try to make it work or move in a different direction and trust that no matter what happened I would embrace the changes ahead. A new friend I had met through this musical family at the time asked me why I was holding onto something that clearly was bringing me no joy. And she reminded me that I won’t ever find that joy until I let go of the things that are holding me back. “You don’t need this. Just let it go.” I believe were her exact words.
I chose to move forward. It was challenging. I lost some “friends”. I lost a band. I lost the only musical connections I ever thought I could have, I lost a little bit of who I thought I was. But the better side of the coin was that I also lost self doubt, I lost that knot in the pit of my stomach after every band rehearsal, and I lost the need for approval from people who were only giving me negative energy in return. And in this process I gained so much. I met new musicians, new friends, created new music. I became a solo artist. ME…Janice Alexander Buerkli…now Janice B.…a freaking solo artist! It didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t easy. I remember when I first started posting the songs on MySpace that my producer MoRece and I had created. I remember getting some negative comments from some people in my musical past that I had moved away from. I heard some ridiculous shit. And I admit, at the time it made me angry and it hurt. And I remember MoRece saying “They are only talking because YOU are making moves…you are creating a buzz. It’s not a bad thing.” And he was right. These folks didn’t think I would keep moving and when there was tangible musical proof that I was, they got uncomfortable. It sucked but it was a part of the process. Lord I don’t look back often but when I do I cannot believe how far I have come and how much I have changed. And I’m still evolving. I’m still learning, still writing, still creating. It’s amazing.
Fear used to hold me back. I had a lot of personal phobias that stopped me from doing the things I wanted to do. But quite honestly there is very little I am afraid of now. That is one thing that taking the leap of faith will give you….fearlessness. Even the difficult things that happen to me I know will result in something joyful. Every heartache, loss, breakup, disappointment had a purpose. I like to create a timeline of joy in my mind. For example if I hadn’t gone through “A” I would never have met “B” and “C” would never have happened. And “C” rocks!! :) Everything I have today that brings me joy is a result of all of my experiences, good and bad. I know that I have to keep my eyes open, look for the joy and keep moving forward.
Now when I am at a crossroads I tell God I’m ready, I let go, and I soar toward what beauty lies ahead. It sounds silly, I know. I didn’t believe it either the first time I did it. But it has never failed me. You should try it. Just let go…..
“Slowly..letting go and falling free I’m soaring…taking in the beauty of this flight…and lifted by the light that I’m feeling inside..watch me fly…” ~Janice B. from the song “My Life”
*My new CD “My Life” is available for download for $8.00 on my page at the Stinkiface Music Website. Here’s the link! http://www.stinkifacemusic.com/janiceb
Love and Light,
Well since my first full length CD “My Life” drops tomorrow, December 6th, I figured I would talk about it a little ( a lot? LOL). All of the songs have a story behind them even if the story isn’t about me. Some of these songs were written in my journal over 7 years ago and only became real songs when I started working with MoRece of Stinkiface Music.
MoRece was able to bring the melodies and meanings to life. Understand that because I don’t plan an instrument I have to go into the studio with my lyrics and sing the melody to MoRece. I tell him what style of music I hear, the feeling behind it, what instruments, harmonies, etc. and then he makes it happen. So although a lot of these songs were written in my journal and the melodies were archived in my head way before I even knew MoRece…ALL of them exist in their current form because of my work with him.
So here is the CD track listing and a little sumptin sumptin about each song…
- To Grandma…Intro: This track includes a very worn snippet of my grandmother playing the piano and me singing when I was probably about 2 or 3 years old. This was originally recorded on a reel to reel tape recorder and then transferred to cassette tape “old school style” by sitting the cassette recorder in front of the reel to reel and pressing “record”. LOL It was later burned on a CD. Most of the CD wasn’t useable but MoRece was able to capture this snippet. The original intro included a clear cut of me at 4 years old singing Disney’s “I Wonder” from Sleeping Beauty. We had to remove it at the last minute since we were uable to obtain licensing permission to use it. Bummer.
- “Shining Down” : This song was written in 2003 about my grandmother. I felt like she was watching me and guiding me in my musical journey…and I still do! It was a reminder to me that even after our physical death our spirit carries on in the loved ones we leave behind.
- “Love Will Find You”: Written in December of 2008, a good year into working with MoRece and newly signed to Stinkiface Music…this song came sneaking in after creating “Watch Me Fly”. I liked the mystical feel of it and wanted to write a song with a similar vibe about how true love never dies…it evolves and transforms. This is one of my favorites and is sometimes compared to Portishead. (great compliment!)
- “Watch Me Fly” : Ahhh the catalyst to so many things! This song has become my mantra more than I ever imagined it would…and apparently other people have taken it on as well, relating to the message. And to think this song almost didn’t get recorded! I wrote this in the summer of 2003 after first starting to write songs and sing with the band. The song was for me and about me. I was still learning my way around songwriting and performing and there were folks who were jealous and angry that I was taking this step and reaching for my dreams. I was new at it and vunerable and the stones being thrown hurt with sharp intensity. About my music someone said, “White folks won’t get it and black folks will never accept you” and that was all I needed to hear to send my pen soaring across my journal page in anger. We were originally going to record it while I was in the band and we were going to change the hook and bend it around a track the guitarist had created. But it never happened. 5 years later after working on another song in the studio MoRece asked me what was next. I sheepishly pulled this out of my journal not sure if I should really make it a song or not. Sitars, soap opera keys, and a marching drum changed everything about the way I would see myself as an artist going forward. The vocal track is the original scratch track we did that night. My throat was sore and my voice was tired. But it fit the track. And I remember MoRece saying that sometimes the first take is the best. It went on to be the title track of my 2009 EP.
- T&T Calling: I met Brenda Butler on MySpace in 2008 and we have been “twins” ever since. She is an amazing vocalist and a beautiful spirit who lives in Trinidad. She called in to a blog talk interview of mine once to congratulate me and her deep beautiful speaking voice was amazing. I asked her to do the spoken intro to “So Much Love”..a little “reggae-ish” tune on the CD. I gave her very little direction. Just told her I wanted it to sound like she was talking on the phone to her friend about the song. She ran with it! She quickly got into a studio in Trinidad and recorded several different versions of the clip. I love how she says “and all doin da face ova here”. LOL!! She’s a gem!
- “So Much Love”: Another song that was written while I was in the band. We were speaking of recording it but never did. I actually wrote it because we had been doing some outdoor gigs and festivals and I wanted a summer song that everyone could bop their heads to. A song about divine love in all forms. I was originally planning on having a friend of the band do a rap for the bridge. But that idea was abandoned after MoRece suggested David Ross aka Native Son of my label mates The 5th L. His part is perfect!
- “A Part of You”: This is the first song I wrote with MoRece and the reason we started working together. After hiring him as an engineer for another project I had a few minutes left of studio time and wanted to record the scratch idea for A Part of You. I knew how I wanted it to sound…I just needed to find a pianist to play it. I came out of the booth and MoRece started playing keys just like I heard in my head! Everyone has a theory about who this song was written for. The truth is it’s not from my perspective singing about a lost love. It was inspired by something I was told once by a former flame. That no matter where they were or who they were with, a part of their heart belonged to me. I took that emotion and turned it into a song making it sound like it was my story. This song touches a lot of people and along with Watch Me Fly it has garnered a lot of emails and comments from my listeners letting me know how it relates to their lives.
- “Storm” If I tell you what this song is about I will have to kill you. And I don’t want to do that. This is the only song I don’t reveal the meaning of. See if you can figure it out. No one has yet. MoRece is the only other person who knows what it’s about and he won’t tell you either. Or I’ll have to kill him….and then you. And that would be bad.
- “Runaway”: This song was the last song written for the CD and the timing and arrangement in my head wasn’t synching with the normal musical world. LOL It almost didn’t make the CD. MoRece was able to make it happen at the last minute. This song was written in pieces. The original song “Stolen Moments” only exists in my journal. I started writing “Runaway” and took the bridge and ideas from “Stolen Moments” creating a whole new song.
- “Sweet Harmony”: is an ode to musicians. You know that feeling you get watching a live band play? People get so taken by the power of the music and the live experience that they become enthralled with the people onstage. (cue the groupies!) I have always loved the song “Killing Me Softly” and the meaning behind it. It inspired me to write this piece about the magic that each musician in the band stirs up inside of people.
- “I Remember”: This is the story of love and friendship transcending race and the physical. After hearing one too many racist comments at work one day I found myself feeling angry yet very sorry for these ignorant people making the comments. They don’t know my friends and family..my beautiful circle of love and joy. So I wrote this song telling the story of my friend Shelley and I growing up together and the racism we moved through as we got older and the world became less innocent. The line in the bridge “why can’t they see what unites you and me?” was the first line written and the line that defined the rest of the song. The original version on my EP ”Watch Me Fly” was an upbeat popish tune. Sahffi does the guitar version on the CD and I think it gives the words of the song more heart.
- “Waiting”: I often talk about how I like to take an intense, sometimes painful emotion and transform it into a song about something totally different. “Waiting” is an example of this. I was witnessing a close friend going through a difficult time. I felt helpless and I longed for some magic thing I could say or do to make it better for them. I didn’t know what to do with that feeling. So I flipped it around and I told the story of what happens when you have been carrying a torch for a friend and decide to let them know about it. The uncertainty, the anxiety, the angst of that moment when you decide to make that call. This song is that phone call. And the energy behind the emotion stemmed from an entirely different situation.
- “Maybe”: also sometimes referred to as the cougar song. LOL I always thought “cougar” referred to one of those older chicks who make passes at their teenage son’s friends. I didn’t know I fell into the age bracket! grrrrrr AND when I heard someone define it as “a woman over 35 on the prowl for younger men” I was insulted! I don’t “prowl” after anyone! (I’m married of course!) It’s not my fault if younger men are drawn to me. LMAO! But anyway..all joking aside…this was a tongue in cheek take on the situation. I wanted it to be bare bones so we just used me on vocal and Buddy Jordan on bass. I love how it turned out.
- “Rain”: This song was one of the first songs MoRece and I did together. We recorded it and sat it aside. MoRece wasn’t happy with the “churchy” feel of the keys and I was on the fence about it. I performed it acapella at an open mic once and people seemed to like it. We revisted it and tried it with someone else doing the keys but I didn’t like it. I insisted on the original keys that MoRece did and explained that I wanted that “let’s just sit down and run through this song” raw acoustic feel to it. It’s song about redemption and forgiveness. The entire song was written around the line “Once this fog has lifted I’ma see the golden sky”. I was very depressed and up early one morning driving and it was so dark and foggy outside. When I went over a hill the intense sunlight hit me in my face changing my mood and inspiring this song.
- “My Life” : I explained this song in a previous blog so I won’t go on about it. But it was a newer, more upbeat and “feel good” version of the message in “Watch Me Fly”. If you know of the artist Janita you will understand the feel I was going for. Background vocals by Ama Chandra were added purely by coincidence. She stopped by the studio one night because we were talking to MoRece about another project and I asked her if she would do some vocals. It’s a blessing when you have super talented folks hanging out with you!
- “Sumptin Sumptin in French”: a quick recording of my son Alex being silly and singing “Frere Jacques” (Brother John). I taught it to him in French and his father was singing it to him and forgot the words to the one line and sang “something something in French” and Alex picked it up and thinks its funny when he sings it wrong now. I started the CD with me as a child singing and wanted to end it with my son doing the same.
- “The Visit“: This was a poem I wrote after I visited my grandmother’s gravesite. I had such strong memories of being in her house and hometown as a child that when I returned as an adult after her death I was sure I would feel something or get a sign that she was there. ”The Visit” is the story of that day. I owe the recording of this song to MoRece. I don’t do spoken word and I only think songs and melodies. He orchestrated this piece. He brought it to life. It wouldn’t exist outside of my journal or on this CD if it wasn’t for him.
It’s a strange feeling to be finished with this CD. It’s completion has closed old wounds and opened new doors filling me with hope and inspiration. I am a different artist and songwriter now. I have evolved since starting this project and it’s completion is a testament to where I have been, what I have experienced, and where I am going next.
Thanks for flying with me on this journey!
You can purchase the CD tomorrow, December 6th through the Stinkiface Music Online store or through the usual online retailers.
Love and Light,
My initial intention was to blog about the songs on my upcoming CD “My Life”..in track order…and give a little story about each one. But I was browsing through some of my video clips that I captured while working in the studio and noticed a lot of them revolved around the title track “My Life”.
Besides Mo-rece’s amazing keys and production on the song I was blessed to have 3 incredibly gifted artists lend their talents to it as well. Ama Chandra, Kevin Powe Jr. aka “KP”, and Brian ”Spyda” Wheatley all stopped through Rawtech Studios over a period of several months to add some of their flavor to “My Life”.
As I browsed through the video clips I realized that this is exactly what people ask me about all of the time….how does a song come together? So I decided to abandon the ”track order” idea and skip straight to the title track “My Life”!
The idea for the song “My Life” came to me in the summer of 2010. I was (as usual) burning the candle at both ends and wanted to write something that would make me feel lifted and happy. Something with the inspiring message of Watch Me Fly but way lighter and summery. LOL! The melody came through like a summer breeze and the lyrics right along with it. “It’s my life, and I will fly…..heed the lesson, keep the blessing, leave the rest behind. It’s my dream, and I design where the journey’s gonna take me in my time.”
I soon met with Mo-rece and we were able to put down an instrumental and a vocal scratch track. I took this with me on our family’s trip to Europe in August and I was working on it every free moment I had….tweaking lyrics….changing lines, etc. (Yes I work on vacation…but music brings me joy so it’s a good thing!) Upon my return to the States at the end of August I was ready to hit the studio and redo the track I had previously put down.
I have clips of Mo-rece finding the perfect harmony parts on the keys which we then added to the new lead vocal track. Once I heard me in 4 and 5 part harmony I felt it was too “slick”. Some folks are thinking “huh??”. Sometimes when there are numerous harmony parts and the same voice with the same tone is singing them all they sort of blend too well. Sometimes I like to have a little more “texture” in the mix. Enter Ama Chandra…..
I invited Ama to come through Rawtech Studios one night in December 2010 when we were working so that she could replace my vocals on some of the “My Life” harmony parts to spice up the blend. Her voice definitely added something special to the mix.
At this point we knew we were going to add live bass and drums to the song and in April brought in “KP” Kevin Powe Jr and Brian “Spyda” Wheatley. It’s a tough job being trapped in the studio with so many talented men but ladies someone’s gotta do it!
I’m very pleased with the way the song turned out. You will hear the final mix on the CD when it comes out soon but in the meantime I put together a video of behind the scenes footage as we created this song. Scratch tracks, mess ups, goofiness, and everything else that goes along in the process of making it perfect. I thought you all might like to know what it’s like to be there when it’s happening ……
Until next time….
Love and Light,
Wow this is too surreal for me. MoRece stopped by my 9 to 5 and dropped off the master of my CD “My Life” hot off the Mobtown Studios machinery! He’s done this a million times…. no biggie for him. But for me it’s a monumental occasion. I literally jumped up and down in front of my building. MoRece laughed. I don’t expect anyone to understand. I hold a piece of my spirit and my soul in my hand….on this dinky little CD. This is everything I have written, cried over, smiled about, and lived for the past 9 years.
I didn’t play it right away….waited till I got off work to listen in the car. So many things running through my head. Are people gonna listen to it and understand the depth of what created these songs? Probably not. I’ve been writing this volume of songs since I was with my band in 2003. There are sooo many stories behind each track on this CD. 17 tracks. 17 pieces of me. All the songs flow beautifully. I didn’t feel the urge to skip a track. All of the songs kept me wondering what was next….and duh….I picked the song order!
Anyway I’m going to slowly talk about each song. Some of you will be like yawnnnn but I know a lot of you are with me. Feel free to read on and I welcome your comments.
The first track on the “My Life” CD is entitled “To Grandma”
I’m dedicating this entire CD to my maternal grandmother Edna Engle. She played piano and sang with a small ensemble of musicians waayyyyyy before it was ever accepted that a woman lead a band. She was well liked in her small town but she had big talent. She was offerred an opportunity to join a musical group that travelled the world but she turned it down to raise her daughters. My mom and my aunt. She was a performer. She played to the crowd. I don’t know if she ever had the ability to write songs. She died when I was a dorky teenager before I even knew I could write songs. But she loved to play. And she loved to get others to listen in and sing along. That’s what she did best. She is the one who would play whatever I wanted to sing when I was a toddler. And she could play anything. Even a song she hadn’t heard before. She is the one who took me out walking in the snow and singing Christmas carols up and down the street when I was 3 years old.
She sparked the flame that still burns within. She is the reason I am a musician. She is with me….she is in every song. I am doing what she wasn’t able to do.
The first track of the CD “To Grandma” is a spoken intro…then an actual clip of her playing the old piano in her house in Frostburg and me singing along like a maniac. LOL I think I was about 2 or 3 at the time. The quality is bad. This was originally recorded on an old reel to reel tape recorder..probably in 1968. My father years later sat a cassette recorder up next to the reel to reel and pressed record. Creating an old school…super bad quality recording of numerous clips of me singing with Grandma playing piano on a cassette.
MoRece…..magician that he is…..was able to restore a lot of this clip. After the clip there is an acapella intro into the next track “Shining Down”. “Shining Down” was written for and about my grandma. And for anyone who feels that someone they have lost is still with them…and guiding them.
This is the first part of the CD. I hope you all will stick around for the stories behind all 17 tracks!!!
Until next time…..
** extra factoid……originally the intro contained a super clear clip of me singing “I Wonder” from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty at the age of 4 years old. We cut it out because it is impossible to obtain a mechanical license from Disney and I certainly cannot afford to be sued by them!!!! Bummer!
Hello everyone! I know I’ve been MIA lately in blog world. Time is a rare commodity these days! I think the news of Amy Winehouse’s death last weekend sparked something in me. I remember everyone talking about how “different” she was when she first came onto the US music scene. And I know what a difficult badge that word “different” is to wear sometimes.
I’ve been hearing the same comments I always hear when a celebrity dies “way too young”…especially when it applies to musicians abusing drugs and alcohol. Heck I’ve made some of those comments myself in the past. “Such a waste”. Some comments from fans are full of disappointment and sadness. Other comments come from anger and frustration. “She had everything….why didn’t she get help?” Unfortunately I don’t think it was a surprise to anyone when the news of Winehouse’s death was announced Saturday. We’ve witnessed her behavior and watched her spiraling. The thing is none of us can know what was going on with her on the inside… but as an artist I can say that a lot of us creative folk are “broken” in one way or another. Many of us create in order to release whatever it is we are dealing with inside. Some of us have found a way to effectively channel our emotions into our art. But many never quite figure it out or are suffering too much or are carrying too many burdens to ever get through it.
What’s ironic is….once we are “discovered” and our art is put out there, people start wanting more of it and idolizing the artist. Suddenly we are supposed to be “perfect”. Now our pain, our release, our weakness becomes sought after. Now we have to keep doing it. We spent our lives being perceived as “different” and perhaps set apart in a bad way. Ridiculed and ostracized because we saw the world from a unique perspective. “Different” was a bad thing. And now we are being applauded for that which once caused us pain. We have to keep finding a way to make more art that people want. And remember sometimes we are creating from a dark place..the same place from which we were once trying to escape. Now we have to keep going back. Amy herself said it helped her to be “whacked out” in order to create. I believe that’s how she put it.
Once you add the celebrity status, the demanding schedules, the constant media attention, the rumors, the spotlight on all of your “faults”….well I can guarantee that no one is exempt from the possibility of breaking under the pressure. It’s very easy to say that you would never turn to drugs. You would never be that self destructive. You could never be like Amy. And let me ask…are you saying that while holding a cocktail in your hand after a rough day at the 9 to 5? What if one day that cocktail wasn’t enough to relax you after a rough day? Yeah okay, maybe it’s not the exact same thing…but maybe that’s just because you’ve never experienced that kind of darkness. It starts small. It escalates. It spirals. The greater the pain the stronger the drug needed to calm it.
A lot of drug addicts and alcoholics are also suffering from clinical depression but were never properly diagnosed early in life. They start self medicating and they don’t even really know why. They need to drown the pain, put the demons to sleep for a while..pass out. Because feeling nothing is better than the pain they are going through. I’m not saying that this was the case with Amy or any celebrity we see spiraling out of control. I’m just saying that you never know what’s truly going on. You never know the depths of the pain they might be going through. And if you don’t know that kind of darkness maybe you should be grateful intead of judgmental.
As an artist I can only pray it never gets that dark for me. As a mom I can only pray I never have to experience what Amy’s mom is going through. I pray I never have to watch my child self destruct and be unable to reach him. And if despite my efforts and my prayers I still experience these things, I can only hope you will know that there is more going on inside than what meets the eye. And I hope you will look at me and my family with compassion instead of judgement.
Until next time….
Much love and light…