A Musical Journey
As I work on finishing up what is hopefully the final draft of my memoir, I find myself wanting to go back to writing my weekly blog posts. I love writing, although like any other writer, I have times of feeling uninspired. I’ve been consumed with the memoir and with songwriting and am ready once again to do even more. I was thinking today about the journey that brought me to my home in Petersburgh, NY. I thought about the Beatles’ song “Long and Winding Road.” It has been long and winding with adventures on both the east and west coasts, bouncing back and forth a few times always looking for something. Now, without even looking anymore, I’ve finally found it. It is peaceful indoors and out. Most days, I can sit in the yard or walk through the woods and listen to even the subtlest sounds because there’s no other noise. I can look up at the sky, and there are no wires obstructing the view. At night, it is dark. On a full moon, you can walk around in the moonlight, and if it’s a new moon, the stars are brilliant. This peaceful paradise has inspired me to write even more than I did before, and I’ve always been a writer. The first writing I did outside of school assignments and the occasional diary entry was writing headlines for articles in the newspaper where my dad was working as the editor. I was a young teen when he taught me the intricate art of headline writing. This was before computers when papers were printed with lead type. The headlines had to be succinct and catch the attention of the reader with something clever within the space constraints. It involved a certain amount of math because the letters were different widths.
As a young adult, I started writing songs and poetry. In middle age, I started keeping a journal and did that for many years. Then I moved on to blogs and writing emails for a mailing list to promote my music. Not long ago, I went to a show in Albany and met someone who told me that he had been on my mailing list for around 20 years. It literally blew me away. When he told me that he’d been getting my emails for so long, I realized that I’d started writing them back when I was working with my former romantic and music partner as a duo, Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh, doing folk music. Having the same last name was one of those quirky things I always seem to attract that we capitalized on. I’ve been through a lot of changes since then. During that time, I started my own business, teaching music classes to families. I also went to Germany for two weeks to play music and China for two weeks to teach English through music. I started taking my songwriting seriously and released four CDs. In the last eight of those years, I started a new life, have had three major band configurations and have a collection of music videos that feature all of them to varying degrees. As my music has bloomed and grown, I’m reminded of the journey it's taken to get here.
My main job for 40 years or so was raising children. Most families do that in a condensed way, but not me. Between children spaced apart and a grandchild who needed me, it was that many years of doing music but putting them first. I’m good at that kind of juggling, and there was a lot of fun along the way. Although I had been working as a musician when I was young, singing for weddings and various choirs, Paul Cavanaugh and I started out making music together on the streets. We became buskers when we lived in San Francisco and did it again later in Portland, Oregon. I learned a lot from that work and from the people I met who were doing the same. When we finally settled in Albany, NY, we put a band together and mostly played in clubs and events. We did a lot of cool shows and spent a lot of time making our posters to put up around town. I went to a party once where the kitchen was papered with show fliers, and many of them were ours. When I asked if they had ever been to a show, they said no but that they really liked the fliers. That made me laugh. For that reason, when I met the guy who’s been on my mailing list for so long, I asked if he ever read the emails. He seemed to kind of squirm a bit, and I felt bad. I hadn’t meant to make him uncomfortable; I was just curious to know if it was like the fliers. I never feel offended by things like that.
Some of the most fun shows that I’ve done were shows with a theme. Paul Cavanaugh and I did two shows with songs written or performed by someone from every letter of the alphabet. The first show as titled “On Beyond Zappa.” Unfortunately, the set list is lost, and I can’t remember every song that we did. I do remember covering “Making Plans for Nigel” by XTC. The second one was “On Beyond Zevon.” For that one, we cheated a bit and sang something covered by Xavier Cougat. A few of the other letters in those sets were The Allman Brothers & Animals, Byrds & Beatles, Crosby, Nash, Stills and Young & Creedence Clearwater Revival … Eagles & Duke Ellington, Fleetwood Mac, Grateful Dead … Jefferson Airplane, Steely Dan, Talking Heads … Velvet Underground … Frank Zappa & Warren Zevon. We even passed out sheets with the letters and gave out a prize to anyone who could fill in every one of them. After doing the song for “z,” we did a few originals for “on beyond. Sue R., who came to all our shows, was the only one who knew them all. I would love to pull that off again sometime.
For a few years, I hosted a Masquerade Open Mic at various venues including The Low Beat and The Rustic Barn. To sign up for the Open Mic, you must be dressed as a musician you admire and cover at least one of their songs. I’ve been everyone from Bob Dylan to Amy Winehouse. Some folks, including me, always go all out while others tend to minimize their costumes. Either way, everyone agrees that it’s a lot of fun. Some of them even started thinking about their costumes for the following year right after Halloween. It started out as a private party and got too big for my small home, so I found larger venues for it. During the COVID-19 shut down, I did one outdoors in our yard. It was a cold day, and only a couple of people showed up. This year, I waited too long to secure a venue, so it will be a private party again. I’m love thinking about not only the musician I will be but which of their songs I’ll do and what kind of crazy costume can I come up with. I must admit that so far, Amy Winehouse was my favorite costume. I even sent away for Amy Winehouse temporary tattoos, did the eye makeup and wore the most uncomfortable shoes ever. I eventually took off the shoes, and it was worth all the effort.
Paul and I, with our band General Eclectic, even did two acid tests in Albany, NY in the late 1980s. We’d planned on doing three but never pulled off the third. Those were both unbelievable experiences with Kool-aid, films, a light show and multiple bands of different genres. They had been advertised only by word of mouth with clues included on the posters. For those shows we were General Eclectic, the Eclectic Kool-aid Band. Both shows were packed with overflow out on the street and in the two apartments in the same building. Now I have another band and have been pondering what comes next. I’d like a new theme to work with, something fun and unique. I don’t know what it is yet but stay tuned. I’m sure I’ll come up with something unusual. I think that often, because I tend to be quiet, some folks don't realize how much fun I can be.