I have always known that every chapter in my life, even every little incident, whether good or bad, just leads to the next chapter which may be completely different and unexpected. That was how I felt about the gig in Europe. Because of the choices I made when I was younger and just starting out in my adult life, I lived below the poverty level for most of that time and never imagined that I would travel overseas. I was resigned to my lot and even embraced it. I’ve never been religious. Even as a child, being raised kind of Catholic lite, I was thrown out of Catechism class in twice. My parents were able to enroll me again for the two big sacraments, First Communion and Confirmation. I guess I “asked too many questions.” It was disruptive to the rest of the class. But although I’m not religious, I am spiritual. It’s probably more along the lines of Native Americans and Druids. I pay attention to any signs that come my way. Sometimes they’re dreams, other times premonitions. I also tend to go whichever way the wind blows. My partner teases me about being spontaneous. It’s true. I can be running a short errand and end up on some adventure or exploration for much of the day, and I usually say yes immediately to most things.
That’s how I ended up in Europe. As draining as the actual gigs were, the rest of the trip was amazing. After the other musicians left to go home or on to their own travels, we rented a car. We toured around Berlin for a day, finding Dick’s old haunts and listening to his outrageous stories about his adventures there as a young man. He even spoke a little German, just enough to get us by. I found that I understood more of what was being said than I thought I would. I didn’t know if it was because German is a similar language to English or if it came from my musical background. Musicians often have an easier time with language. In addition, when I studied classical voice, I often sang in other languages such as German, Italian and French. Either way, we were relieved to have had no trouble navigating the country. We soon headed south to Bavaria where we saw a few old castles and stayed in a motel at Schwangau. Schwan is the German word for swan. This is where the Hohenschwangau Castle and Neuschwanstein Castles are located. It is also the location of Swan Lake or Schwansee. Both castles have an interesting history.
Hohenschwangau Castle was built sometime around 1397 and sits on top of a hill overlooking Schwangau and went through many owners until finally being bought in 1832 by King Maximillion II. It was Maximillion who built the park which has Schwansee in it. His son, King Ludwig II, grew up there and later built Neuschwanstein Castle on the top of the neighboring hill which also overlooks the lake and village. Neuschwanstein Castle became the model for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. King Ludwig has an interesting and tragic story. He was called “The Mad King.” In reality, he was shy and quite eccentric. He spent his money wantonly. He insisted on only eating outdoors and wore a heavy coat on the hottest days in the summer. He often behaved in a childish way and avoided politics and state business. He was expected to produce an heir but never married and was known to be attracted to men. In the 19th-century, Bavaria was intensely Catholic and socially conservative. Homosexuality was illegal and punishable by death. The scandal of a homosexual monarch would have been intolerable, so he was deposed and later murdered.
He was a patron of the arts and was drawn to classical composer Richard Wagner. He decided to build the castle as a private residence but also as a retreat Wagner. He used his own private money rather than using public funds and borrowed an extravagant amount only to leave the castle unfinished. It is extravagant and quirky. It almost reminded me of the creepy Winchester House in San Jose, California with its staircases that lead nowhere, doors that open up into walls and useless rooms, except that no expense was spared for the construction of the castle. He was so involved with the design; he often gets credit for being the architect. On the tour, which consisted mostly of climbing up and down stairs to look at many unfinished rooms, my favorite room by far was the Singer’s Hall. The walls and ceiling were built of hollow cedar boxes to mimic an acoustic instrument, like a guitar body. It was one of the last stops on the tour and I stayed behind the group long enough to sing inside the room. It was awesome. The richness of the sound was unlike anything I’d heard before. That one room made the whole tour worthwhile. After the one night in Schwangau, we started traveling east on our way to Switzerland to stay with friends at their home.
As we traveled through Bavaria, we noticed that the area was still very conservative and Catholic. There were many crucifixes along the road, in people’s yards and churches everywhere. In one small town, we noticed an outdoor art fair, so we stopped. Some of the vendors spoke English. One of them had lived in upstate New York for a few years. He did watercolors. We had our instruments with us and thought maybe we could play here. There were no other musicians around, so we asked this new friend. He explained that we would have to get permission from the local priest who would only permit it if we did sacred music. We were stunned. We asked if he thought the priest would accept instrumental tunes. He advised us to forget about it, so we did.
The autobahn was incredible. It was a solid road with no potholes or cracks in the concrete. We saw some workers building a new road and were amazed at the outstanding construction. Everything in Germany seemed to be well-built. No floorboards creaked and no doors or windows were warped, no matter how old the buildings were. When we had first arrived at the Berlin airport, we had seen windmills everywhere. Now there were hundreds of them and yellow fields of rapeseed everywhere that would be harvested to make Biodiesel fuel. We saw these sights all along our journey through Germany. It was also clean everywhere. There was no litter, and every restroom was immaculate and staffed with attendants. I was also impressed by the hospitality in every region, and food was wonderful.
We got stuck in a traffic jam on the autobahn for a couple of hours. When there’s an accident, traffic is at a standstill until everything is cleared away. It usually involves many cars and takes a while, so people get out of their cars and socialize. We pulled out our instruments and practiced, having a great time for a while, then finally got to an exit and, looking on a map, found a way around the mess. When we were about an hour from our destination, we got lost in Eastern France for a while, driving along narrow, hilly winding roads in tiny villages. Every time we hit a dead-end, we crossed our fingers that we could manage to turn around. The borders were all open, so I had to get a photo with one foot in each country. We finally made it to Fahy, Switzerland around dinnertime. We were starved and exhausted, but we were so excited to see our friends for the first time in many years, we ignored it.
I had asked if I could do a short program at the local school. I had brought along a limberjack in addition to the mandolin. I wanted to demonstrate traditional American culture to the young students. Ursula suggested that we walk over to their neighbor’s home and talk to the kindergarten teacher there. As we approached the house, I realized that I hadn’t grabbed anything to eat and was starting to feel a little light-headed. I figured we wouldn’t stay long. The guys were back at the house preparing dinner. We knocked on the door and were told, in French, that Mama and Papa were in the cellar. I was confused but Ursula led the way to a separate underground wine cellar. Inside were benches and tables and about 8 or ten people drinking wine. When they heard that I was one of the musicians who would be playing at the house concert the next evening, they greeted me enthusiastically and handed me a glass of wine. I started to refuse when Ursula instructed me to take it so I wouldn’t appear rude. I started sipping it cautiously, but they kept toasting and cheering me on. Before I knew what was happening, I had another one in my hand. They wanted me to try their special vintages. I tried to insist on small tastes, but they weren’t having it. They were hosting the American musician and wanted to make a good impression. Then they took me into the smaller room and showed me a wooden cask of cognac from the 19th century and gave me a glass of that.
I don’t remember walking back to Ursula and Ed’s but somehow, we made it. Back at the house, Ed and Dick had wondered where we were. They had cheese and crackers and, of course, wine waiting for us. Then we had another glass of wine with dinner and fruit soaked in alcohol for dessert. I can’t believe I never got sick, but I survived without even a hangover the next day.
Ed was going to play some fiddle with us at the concert, so we spent that day jamming. After dinner, we did our concert for a very appreciative crowd who all brought snacks, and we had a nice visit with everyone after the show. Between my little bit of French, Dick’s little bit of German, a couple of interpreters who spoke English well and some of the residents who had varying degrees of English, we got to know people and thoroughly enjoyed the night. The next couple of days were spent sightseeing and catching up with our friends. Finally, on our way back to Berlin, we visited an old Roman ruin. I have always been fascinated by history and loved the entire trip. I treasured it as a once in a lifetime opportunity.
As time went on, I became better on guitar and began taking my songwriting more seriously. I took a few songwriting classes and workshops, deciding to treat it as a job rather than a hobby. I can’t say that it’s brought me much financial stability, but I’m definitely more fulfilled. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to share those songs, so I started going to the Eighth Step Open Mic regularly and eventually shared the hosting job with a few other musicians. We each had our own style. It was an interesting mix. Some of us, me included, set up the PA to give folks the experience of performing with amplification and learning how to sing into a mic effectively. Others preferred to set up chairs in a circle and facilitate a round robin session, similar to the way I ran my house jams. When I hosted, I made sure to talk to everyone before they went on, finding out a little about them so I could give them a proper introduction. I also set up and ran the sound. All of this went even further toward getting me out of my shell. I met a lot of talented musicians and songwriters including many who took their music even further.
I also started meeting other songwriters in the classes and workshops I took and learned about the craft of songwriting. Until this point, I always waited for inspiration to strike, writing randomly and erratically. Then, I took a workshop taught by Janis Ian. She kept repeating the importance of writing consistently. She recommended that we give ourselves assignments rather than waiting for that inspirational bolt of lightning. She explained that most of those songs would get tossed out, but we would get better and better. In addition to assigning topics to write about, she suggested that we also purposefully write in different styles. I have really taken that to heart as a songwriter and as a performer. I was doing that anyway with the covers I chose, so it was an easy jump to start doing it as a writer. I have to admit that I get bored listening to the same types of songs. I love variety. But I do also realize that because I don’t stick to one style, it’s held me back in some ways. It’s a whole lot easier to get gigs if you fit into one or even two categories.
The other thing I learned from the songwriting classes was how to edit my work. I learned about the preciseness of rhyming, unless it’s purposely more freeform, prosity which is the lyrics matching the vibe of the music, and I learned to count my syllables. It may sound rigid, and it is, but it hones my songs and makes them more accessible. I also began to value input from other songwriters that I trusted. We all look at our works of art from our own skewed perspective, often not at all the way others see them. Having an outside perspective is so valuable. You do have to set aside your ego, though which is not always easy to do. And, there are always some songwriters with whom I don’t connect. I don’t particularly like their style and they don’t like mine, but they still often have things of value to offer me from their unique view. Then, there are others who I have come to depend on. I learned the art of critiquing from a summer camp I attended for a few years. There were strict rules about how to go about giving your opinion about someone’s work. For example, always start with what you loved about it. Even if you really don’t like a song, there is at least one thing you can love about it. Maybe it’s the tone, or the use of certain chords. The other important thing I learned was to not say, “I don’t like …” Instead, I learned to say, “If it were my song, I would …” All of this made perfect sense to me and resonated with my independence and my alternative school teaching methods. I began giving myself regular assignments and found like-minded people to share songs with.
But once again, I found myself in a musical partnership where I had to fight for my songs. They were “too complex,” or “too poetic.” I soon realized that I needed to pursue my songwriting and my musical journey on my own. I was happy to continue to do gigs as Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh, but it wasn’t going to be my only thing. I even stopped asking for input on my songs from my musical partner because they never made the grade. He hadn’t taken any of the classes, never loved anything and was brutal with his criticism. Meanwhile, I was determined to continue on this path. I had put my own music on a back burner for too long. I took a course in Schenectady about working as an artist/educator and created a songwriting workshop for children. I taught that in a few schools and libraries, starting to work the library circuit during the summers. I also kept reaching out to more and more venues. One of my favorite Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh gigs was in an old railway station in Connecticut. It had been turned into an art gallery and performance space. The space was beautiful, the turnout was amazing, the crowd attentive and appreciative, and we made more money at that one gig than ever before or since.
But, while my music career was going well, my personal life was in turmoil again. That same partner was starting to have a wandering eye. Every other woman seemed to be more attractive, smarter about everything and more capable than me in his eyes. He also started worrying more and more about money. He didn’t like to work and was miserable when he did. He often told me that all he really wanted to do was lay around on a beach all day. I wished him luck with that. Then one day, he got offered a job in the Bahamas. It was his dream come true. The job was only a few hours a day with room and board paid for in addition to his salary. I was shocked when he turned it down. He only wanted to go if I went along. I wasn’t willing to give up what I had worked so hard for to live in the Bahamas for six months. I would have to start over again. Also, I had a child in school. I encouraged him to go without me. I didn’t know if he would come back or if he would even want to be with me when he did return, but I hated seeing him so miserable. He didn’t end up taking that job and spent that winter so depressed, he struggled to get out of bed.
Now my eldest son was getting himself in trouble again. I worried about the company he was keeping. He was stealing from us and started stealing from our roommate. Finally, he got arrested for stealing money out of a car. My heart broke when I went to visit him in jail. We had to talk on telephones through plexiglass the first few visits. Each time I visited him, he told me that jail wasn’t so bad. He was even making friends. I quickly started calling up my friends connected in the legal system to help me figure out what to do. The last thing I wanted was for him to be learning new skills and making new friends in jail. We arranged a restorative justice meeting in which the victims and the criminal face each other and work out an arrangement. Unfortunately, not all of the victims were willing to participate but it was powerful anyway. In the end, he did time in a drug rehab facility, even though he wasn’t an addict. He was supposed to spend a year there with no visitation from family or friends for the first six months. This was also heartbreaking but at least he wasn’t learning from the criminal element. He realized later that he could have spent six months in the county jail instead of more than a year in this other place. He felt duped, but I was relieved to have him out of trouble during that time. Though he did get into plenty of trouble there while they tried unsuccessfully to break his spirit.
Then one day, he got a message to me that he was going to be volunteering, with a group of other residents, at the Holiday Lights in the Park. He was going to be dressed up as Elmo at the boathouse, greeting the younger kids. I packed my youngest in the car and off we went. He enjoyed the lights and was looking forward to getting cocoa at the boathouse. When got out of the car, I told him to go over and say hello to Elmo. He refused. I hadn’t told him that it was his brother, because I didn’t want to disappoint him if plans had changed. It had been months since we’d last seen his brother. He did finally reluctantly go over. He was shocked when Elmo gave him a big hug. When he realized who it was, he was elated. I had to caution him not to give it away because we were being watched by the house managers. We wandered off then came back again for another brief visit. It was a bizarre experience running this covert operation to connect with my son, but it warmed my heart. We were then allowed a brief visit just before Christmas to bring him gifts. Gradually, he was allowed more visits and time out, but we had to fight to get him released. After the year was over, they kept finding reasons to keep him longer. He just wasn’t compliant enough. I knew that no one was going to tame this son of mine who was as rebellious as his parents. Eventually, with the help of our lawyer and other connected friends, he was released. I breathed a sigh of relief and hoped for a respite, but there was more turmoil to come. Thankfully, throughout my entire life, it’s always been music that has seen me through the toughest times. My music was thriving.
Just when I thought that my life was beginning to settle down a bit after my tumultuous years with Paul, things started getting even crazier. Paul was now living with one of our old friends whom he’d had a crush on for years. Unfortunately, she and Justin didn’t get along, and he soon moved in with us. So much for my hopes that he and his dad would finally figure out a sustainable relationship. Understandably, our fourteen-year-old was angry about many things, my new relationship, his dad’s relationship and leftovers from all of the fighting he’d heard over the years. Dick and I were living in The Free School neighborhood. I was still working there at first, and Austin was still a student there. This new apartment was very convenient and, although it was small, it was comfortable and affordable. It was in the South End of Albany, and Justin started running around with the neighborhood kids who were also troubled. He had gotten caught smoking pot with some friends when he should have been in school and was suspended for a while. He hated school and kept getting into trouble, so I agreed to let him homeschool. My kids were smart and my own experience in school had been such a disaster, I hoped he would thrive by being on his own. Unfortunately, all he wanted to do was read about gangsters. I did manage to get him to do more than that, but I was worried about the direction he was going in.
He decided to apprentice at The Free School and loved it. The students liked him, and he was thriving on being in that leadership role. But in the evenings, he was out cruising around in the ghetto. Then, one night, he and a friend decided to break into the school. They stole a bunch of AV equipment, VCRs and the like. They brought them up to the roof of one of the buildings and wrote a note apologizing for the theft, but it was too late. They got arrested and hauled off to jail. It turned out that all of the equipment was broken, and the school decided not to press charges. However, the DA decided to prosecute anyway, probably because Justin’s partner in crime was a black teen. He ended up spending a little time in jail before we could post bail. He was convicted of the crime, put on probation, had to pay a fine and do community service. But he continued to flounder. Soon, Dick noticed that his box of change seemed to be reduced, and the loose change in his locked car was disappearing. He set a few James Bond type traps, like a hair across the crack, on his drawer to prove there was thieving going on. The hair was never disturbed, and the car was always locked, but the money kept disappearing. It was making us crazy. Many years later, I found out that Justin was wise to the hair and just replaced it every time he went into the drawer. He didn’t tell me how he got into the car, and I didn’t ask.
Understandably, after the theft, my relationship with the other teachers and Free School community changed. Although other kids in the community had stolen things from time to time, Justin was made the scapegoat. I suppose it was because I always kept myself a little removed from the cultish nature that I perceived in the community, always being a bit of an outsider. Justin lost his full-time babysitting job because the woman he worked for lived in a Free School apartment. Then, I was told that Justin was not allowed to live in the apartment we were renting from The Free School. I responded with a reminder of the illegality of that decree and started looking for another place. We soon moved to The Mariner’s House on South Pearl Street. Although I understood their feelings, after working at the school for a total of 12 years and all of my children going to school there, I felt betrayed and hurt. That betrayal colored my relationships with these friends for many years.
The Mariner’s House was a mansion built in the early 1800s located two doors south of Second Avenue. I had been visiting there and going to parties for years while various friends rented it. There were five bedrooms upstairs, four bathrooms, one with a shower and tub, one with a shower and two half baths. Downstairs, there was a double living room, an office space, an eat-in kitchen, dining room which became our music room, an unheated sunroom and an extra wing with three rooms and the bathroom with the shower. There was also a large fenced in yard that extended on all four sides of the house and off-street parking for up to three vehicles. The rent was $700 a month. This was more than we could afford and bigger than we needed for the three of us, so we decided to live communally. We moved in with a friend and her young daughter. We had all lived communally before, so we set up rules for the household. There was no arguing in the common areas, everyone had their own set of dishes in their assigned cabinet with a dish pan to put dirty dishes into while waiting to be washed and we had our own shelves in the refrigerator. Chores were scheduled and communal meals were optional and occasional.
Once we settled into our new place, I started hosting weekly music jams. Every Friday, we had a room full of people playing a variety of instruments. Some of them were long time players, others were beginners, and they were all ages. I insisted that we go around the circle with each person responsible for choosing a song. They could either lead a song or just play one for us. I had been in many situations before where the musicians were either shy or hogged the show. As one of the shy musicians, I was determined that, at my jams, everyone would have an equal opportunity. The newcomers were allowed one pass, but the next time it came around, they were required to pick a song. That was really the only rule. They could even choose something for someone else to lead, but they had to choose something. I also frequently counseled folks about playing at a reasonable volume so that everyone could be heard. That was probably the hardest part. Everyone was welcome and encouraged. The beginners often placed themselves outside of the circle so that they could stumble without distracting the other players, eventually making their way into the center as they improved. Eventually, word got around, and I was meeting new people who heard about it via word-of-mouth. It was wildly popular.
One Friday night, there was a knock on the door. It was someone new with a guitar in hand. We invited him in, and he stood in the kitchen looking around before finally saying, “I think I know this house. I think it’s the house my mother ran.” He was Mike Milks, who has since passed on. His mother, Eunice Milks ran The Mariners House for many years. It was a place for foreign sailors to stay while their ship was docked at the port. She would help them with any paperwork they had such as visas or help them make phone calls home to their families. This project came about because she had found out that the sailors staying on their ship would take their pay and go to the local tavern for a night on the town. The longshoremen had a deal with the taxis to drop the sailors off at the entrance to the port at the end of the night rather than taking them all the way to the ships. When the sailors stumbled their way back, they would be rolled, losing all of their money, and sometimes even their passports and visas. Eunice decided to take this project on as a missionary work and began bringing them to her home in Guilderland until her husband put his foot down. She finally found the house on South Pearl Street and housed them there. Mike brought her to one of our summer parties and, when she died, he brought me photos from her time there. We all loved hearing the history of our home.
Many people came and went during our time there. We even had my former son-in-law and grandson living with us for a while. I found hidden overgrown gardens and put in my own gardens as I do everywhere I live. We had a big tire swing in the climbing tree just outside the back door and a rope swing in the side yard. Dick even built a tree house in one corner with electricity running to it. We had multiple parties, including an annual New Year’s Eve party, which also grew through word-of-mouth. When we finally decided we’d had enough strangers coming to that party, we shut it down and had people come knock on the door on New Year’s Eve for two years afterwards. Sitting here thinking about it now, I count at least nine people who rented from us. We lived there for nine years until the deterioration of the neighborhood and the refusal of the landlord to fix the deterioration of the house finally drove us out. I loved that house and have a lot of great memories from that time. But like with all good things, there always seem to be other factors that get in the way. Little did we know when moving in that Dick would run into health issues and some old legal trouble with his child support payments. And now, we were living right in the gut of the ghetto with all of its bad influences on my already criminal-leaning son.
Now, the band was starting to gel. Andy, Paul and I all wrote songs. Paul and I generally wrote together, but sometimes one or the other of us would bring a completed song, then came the editing. The arrangements always happened collaboratively. When we first started writing, we made the decision to copyright everything as P & D Cavanaugh. The writing was so intertwined, even on those songs we wrote individually, that it made sense. Over time, we even tended to forget who originated it. But some stood out as either Paul’s or mine. “Visions of an Airplane” was definitely Paul’s. It was written over the course of many years. In 1974, he had read that a suite consisted of five distinct parts and quickly decided to take on the challenge. In 1975, he wrote the first part in Santa Cruz, California. The second part soon followed. In 1977, while back in Connecticut, we lay on our backs in the middle of a football field tripping during a meteor shower while Paul composed the third part on my nylon string guitar as bats came swooping down a little too close for comfort. The fourth and fifth parts were written in Oregon in the early 80s. Another song that Paul wrote was “Long, Long Night.” I so vividly remember that song. I had been on the other side of the country visiting family for a couple of weeks, needing a serious break from the fighting, considering whether or not I could keep living with such an angry man, and then coming home to that love song. Paul always knew how to mend our rifts.
All of the members of the current lineup of General Eclectic had experience with psychedelics, so we were all on the same wavelength musically and psychically. We even tripped together to solidify that connection. I loved playing music on psychedelics because it dissolved all of my inhibitions around music. I reached for new heights without the fear of falling. I rarely played the piano because it brought up too many frightening memories, but I played it when tripping because nothing could hurt me in that psychedelic haze. I knew that these drugs had saved my life. You’ll notice that I don’t write a lot about my early life, just little glimpses now and then. There are good reasons why I’m not yet ready to share those dark times. LSD, mushrooms, mescaline, peyote … all healed my wounds. I still had scars, but I didn’t notice them as much. And I was convinced that it could heal others, too. Paul was in the same boat. Although he still had big anger issues, he seemed to be more grounded after tripping. He was more connected with the outer world and less ruled by his inner world. We also admired the West Coast scene especially The Grateful Dead and Ken Kesey and the Acid Tests. Because of all of these factors, we decided to put on our own Acid Test.
The original idea was to do three of them because three was the magic number for us after finding a bamboo bong with a Chinese inscription about the power of the number three. We started organizing the first one with a musically diverse group of friends, and the idea took off. When trying to figure out how to best distribute the doses, it was decided that it shouldn’t be in actual Kool-Aid. That seemed too risky. That meant someone had to be in charge of it, and I was nominated. Everyone thought that I was probably the most responsible party. Ha! I have to laugh at that now. We made the flyer with hints about the event activities and mostly depended on word-of-mouth. Word went out that if we were booked as The Eclectic Koo-aid Band, it would be one of these unique events, and word got around fast!
That evening, I was handed a piece of foil with plenty of hits of blotter. Paul and I immediately took one each, and I folded the foil back up. The room was set up with a liquid light show. I had borrowed an overhead projector from the school, not telling them why I wanted it. We put two Pyrex pie plates on the surface with cooking oil and food coloring that swirled around and was projected on one wall. Our friends from the band Con Demek showed black and white porn films on another wall after being asked to stop showing them on the band while we were performing. The people downstairs in the “smoking section” were blowing smoke up through the holes in front of the stage, and the place was packed! Within the first couple of hours, the neatly folded tin foil was now a ball of foil in my hand with little bits of blotter sticking out. I found a friend who was not imbibing, handed it off to him babbling something, probably gibberish, and left him shaking his head.
We had many different musicians and bands including some impromptu jamming. There were partiers on all three floors of the building and even outside lining the sidewalk. It was an amazing event. So, we decided to do the second. This time I was smart enough to put someone else in charge of the psychedelics so that I was able to just concentrate on running the show. Mostly though, the show ran itself and I was able to enjoy the fruits of my labor. We were starting to plan the third and final test when the real owner of the Half Moon Café returned to Albany. There was a loose collective of young people running it up to then. Now things changed. When I went in for the first time to meet him, he started complaining about all of the crazy things that he’d heard went on there. “Did you know there was an actual Acid Test here,” he asked. To which I replied, “Wow! Crazy, man.” I always tried not to lie outright and didn’t then. He and I became friends, but I never did admit that we had been the ones responsible. And, although Paul and I tried to build up the energy and excitement for another one, we knew it couldn’t be there and never found another suitable and safe site.
We continued to play at The Half Moon and possible every local bar in town. People either loved us or hated us. There was a review in The Backroom Buzz about a show we did at QE2 that described the band as “a bunch of aging hippies with a lead singer who looked like a milking cow and sang like a cat in heat.” You can imagine what that did to my self-esteem. I was devastated. I didn’t want to go out of the house let alone go on a stage again. All of our friends were horrified and encouraging but it wasn’t until Paul came up with a new poster idea that I agreed to do another show in Albany.
We printed quotes from the article with an illustration of each taken from underground comics, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Mr. Natural and more. Then we added everything we could find that our fans and other press had said about us. Paul convinced me that we should use these terrible things the reviewer had said to our advantage. Our next show was standing room only, and I developed a thick skin. I didn’t care any more about getting publicity or reviews or any accolades. I was doing my music for myself, and if people liked it that was a bonus, but I no longer needed that reassurance. This was huge after being put down as not being good enough by my dad throughout my life. And it was a relief. Oddly, I sometimes feel thankful for that horrible review. It's reminded me that my music is ultimately for me. I'm happy when others enjoy it, but I do it for myself first.
When I was hired at Hilton Music to teach piano, I decided to work as many hours as I could to try to get ahead a little financially. We were living in section-8 housing, so we were surviving, but that was all. Of course, the more money we made, the higher was our rent, but we could still keep enough to make a difference. To get to work on time, I left home at 7:30 am to walk to the bus stop. Then, so that the family could use the car to do fun things, I took two buses to reach my job in Troy by 9 am and worked until 7 pm, getting home between 8:30 and 9. I was exhausted when I got home but also happy to be working and doing something on my own away from the house and family. Up to that point, our kids had gone everywhere with me, parties, rallies, gigs, and more. I even taught at their school. I was teaching music mostly to young people, most of whom really wanted to play.
I was also meeting other musicians. I quickly met Rudd Young, who was also working there. He was a manager and a salesman. He was a good one, too. He was, and still is, a very friendly and likeable guy. I soon found out that he played bass. We had just recently lost our bass player, so I organized a jam. Rudd not only joined the band, but he offered the store as a practice space after hours. He set everything up, we started practicing once or twice a week. I had met enough people by then to be able to arrange for a babysitter. It was usually the teenage daughter of a friend from Rok Against Reaganomix. Cheralyn was great. She was a no-nonsense sitter, which was exactly who I needed with Justin, who was becoming a handful. She also had a brother and was able to either negotiate gracefully between my two fighting children or just nip it in the bud. It was such a relief to have someone I trusted be with them.
We must have had a drummer, but I don’t remember who that was. We went through many musicians in those early Albany days. We had a variety of guitar players including one who was into more contemporary and heavier rock than we were at the time. He influenced the band in a good way. Danny was young and a bit flashy. Around the time he was playing with us, someone saw our cat in the window and reported it. Pets were not allowed in this complex but, as she had traveled across the country with us and was part of our family, we weren’t willing to give her up, so we snuck her in hoping for the best. My parents refused to take her, and we couldn’t find anyone else. Out of desperation, we asked Danny to take her until we could figure something else out. We also explained how attached we were to her. Poor Jessie cried as we handed her over, but we assured her that we would find another place and get her back. This was only temporary.
We asked regularly how she was doing and noticed that Danny seemed a little nervous each time we asked. He finally admitted that he gave her away to some old lady who seemed to love her and was looking for a cat. We were angry and devastated. Autumn was Jessie’s cat, and she was broken-hearted. We insisted that he try to get her back, but he had no idea who this woman was or how to find her. He told us at the next practice that he looked and asked around to no avail. We felt betrayed. He never even checked with us before passing her on. We could see that he felt guilty, but that night we fired him. Paul had a lot of faults, but to him loyalty was an important attribute. Danny had failed at that.
Meanwhile, I was starting to burn out on my job at the music store. The hours were draining, and the owner wanted me to push the sales of sheet music. Most of the kids were beginners and weren’t ready for much more than the standard lesson book. I’ve always incorporated ear training in my lessons as well, so they were satisfied playing some of their favorite songs by ear or with the simple arrangements I made for them. Although the other employees understood, the owner did not. Another issue was what I was coming home to after work. Paul had warned me back in 1980 when I was offered a full-time job in Portland, that he was not a reliable caregiver. I knew this and hoped that he could manage for a day, but this was not to be. The first few weeks, things went smoothly. Both kids were happy. They’d seemed to have had a good day with their dad. Then, things gradually started to slip through the cracks. I started coming home to chaos. Paul often lost track of the time and hadn’t fixed dinner. Then I would find out that the kids hadn’t had lunch either. When I realized that he wasn’t taking them out anywhere, I stopped taking the bus, shortening my travel time by a lot. However, all things considered, this extra job had stopped being worth all the downsides, so I quit.
We continued to practice in Troy and soon found another guitar player who fit our style better than anyone before. Andy Roth had a style like Jerry Garcia and also sang and wrote songs. He fit like a glove. He also brought a new group of people into our circle including one young man who kept saying, “You guys have to meet my dad.” Until then, we were of the mindset, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Eventually, we agreed to meet him, and Ron became our percussionist. He was the coolest older guy we’d met since leaving San Francisco in 1975. Although we were lacking a drummer, we had someone on congas and bongos, and I played percussion. That summer, we did another show for Rok Against Reaganomix both as a duo and with our latest group. We’d learned quickly that we needed to be flexible and make ourselves available for any kind of venue. We played at most of the rallies as a duo, though occasionally we added players. We played in bars as a whole band and coffeehouses and cafes in a variety of configurations. We also continued to play on the streets since busking was how we’d gotten started, and I never forgot Arlo Guthrie telling me that he went back to the streets regularly as a reminder of where he came from.
We were developing a large following but, like any other unique band, we had our critics, too. There were a lot of people who wanted us to fit into a category, which we didn’t. They couldn’t understand how we could cover Frank Zappa and Hank Williams in the same show. In 1988, with another addition to the band who played guitar and keyboard, we decided to do a show entitled “On Beyond Zappa.” We did a song for every letter in the alphabet then did some of our own to end. It was a hard to come up with every letter, but we did it. We did a song by the Allman Brothers, Irving Berlin, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young … Grateful Dead …Waylon Jennings, Kinks … Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, Willie Nelson, Pink Floyd, Queen … Ramones, Steely Dan, Traffic … Velvet Underground, Hank Williams, XTC, and finally ending with “I Am the Slime From Your Video” by Frank Zappa. We handed out sheets with each letter to fill out with the artists’ names. There was even a prize for whoever could correctly name all twenty-six artists. As it turned out there was only one winner who received a homemade cassette tape. Later on, we did a second of those called “On Beyond Zevon” and chose all different artists. We did cheat a little on that one and chose Xavier Cougat for “X” because we couldn’t think of anything else. This was before you could go on the internet and find just about anything.
Some of our shows at The Half Moon Cafe, including that one, were so packed that there were folks hanging out on the sidewalk watching through the plate glass window. There was also the basement that turned out to be the smoking room. There were holes in the ceiling right in front of where the stage was, so the smoke would filter up through those holes, probably getting the band high just from standing there. Before too long, people were smoking everywhere outside, too. We were known as a “get high band” but, for some reason, still attracted mainstream fans which was fine with us. Knowing how to blend into any situation, being a chameleon, was a survival skill that Paul and I learned during our tough childhoods. As a result, we each seemed to attract a diverse group of people. And that was true not just at our shows.
One year, we decided to throw a party in our Green Street apartment. I made sure the kids stayed with their grandparents that night, knowing that it might turn out to be a wild time. I was right. One of our friends was an ex-biker. We called him “Rev.” He explained that there were only two ways to quit the club, die or become a minister. So, he sent away to become a minister mail through the mail. That night, he brought his best friend’s daughter, who was a “biker chick” through and through. She arrived carrying a “keg killer,” which was the biggest beer stein I’d seen. The deal was, whenever anyone drank the whole thing, she would flash her tits. There were a lot of drunken men at that party including one who ended up in our bathtub with her. Our old friend, Vernon, the extremely shy man who stayed with us for a summer in Oregon, just sat in a corner watching and doing a lot of blushing. Meanwhile, Rev was in another corner totally engaged for the entire night with the straightest man at the party talking about country music. It was a night to be remembered, and I was glad I’d had the forethought to send my kids away for the night. Not only did they miss the excitement, but Paul and I had a chance to recover the next day before stumbling in to pick up the kids. We were settling into this community nicely and felt as though we were just getting started. Paul was satisfied to stay put, at least for now.
In addition to driving or hitchhiking to San Francisco for music, there was plenty of music right near our home in and around Santa Cruz. The center of activity was the Pacific Avenue pedestrian mall. This was the major hangout spot. There was always music there. There were always buskers (street musicians). I once saw Arlo Guthrie playing on a street corner. We hung out for a little while, and he told me that he liked to busk because it was a good reminder of where he came from. Paul and I occasionally busked there too, but he was working full-time, and we had our first baby, so our time was limited. That didn’t mean we weren’t playing tons, just not on street corners. We once went to a party and jammed with Sammy Hagar. Another time, I sat in on vocals with Don McCaslin’s band, Warmth, at the Cooper House, an old courthouse from the 1890s turned into a restaurant and café. They played there every day and night, usually outdoors by the sidewalk café. There were great clubs, too. The Catalyst was a cool, funky venue right in the hub of the action. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during the big earthquake that happened there years after we were gone. It was rebuilt but had lost its funky quality that made it so warm and welcoming.
There was always something or someone interesting to be found on Pacific Avenue. One day, as I rounded a corner, there was a man in full combat gear, guns and all, just standing there like a statue. I thought at first that he was until he moved slightly. He was protesting “the police state.” Another day, I was walking along when I heard a familiar voice. Back when we were living in Connecticut, just before we decided to leave on our big adventure, we had picked up a hitchhiker near Hartford and brought him to our apartment where he stayed for almost a week. His name was David. He was homeless and traveling the country by thumb. He played harmonica, so we stayed up night after night jamming and partying. When he left for the west coast, we gave him some winter gear, hat, coat and gloves, so he wouldn’t freeze. David had the most unique voice. It had been destroyed by cigarettes and alcohol but had a very melodic, though raspy, quality to it. Now, here he was, holding court on Pacific Avenue, playing his harp and regaling all the hippies with his stories. He recognized me immediately and insisted I sit with him for a while singing along.
We were often running into people we knew. Paul randomly found a former co-worker from Connecticut, and I found out that my cousin Tommy was living in Santa Cruz. By the time I tracked him down, he was moving on the next day. He was only a couple of blocks away from our apartment, and we had a nice visit. We also ran into the woman who had given us a ride out of the blizzard in Big Springs, Nebraska. Then, there were the folks we just ran into in San Francisco. This still happens to me all the time. Five years ago, I went out to Oregon to the Oregon Country Faire, a huge hippie festival held every July Fourth weekend/week. As I was walking through the packed crowd of thousands of people, I saw an old friend from Albany who was vacationing there. Neither of us had been in touch for a while and were quite surprised to see each other there. Though, I have to admit that I’m not really surprised by much these days.
My life changed in so many ways while living there. I was raised on fast food, TV dinners, instant mashed potatoes and Velveeta cheese. Suddenly, I found myself in an environment where there were food coops and people harvesting wild foods. There were natural healers using plants instead of chemicals to cure illnesses. There were nursing mothers everywhere of all ages, not just young hippies. I started learning all of these things, using herbs for healing, learning about vegetarianism and finding out more about nutrition than I’d ever imagined. There was a wonderful bookstore on the mall simply called “Bookshop Santa Cruz.” One day I found a cookbook in the free box on the sidewalk outside entitled “The Bread Book.” I started baking my own bread. I made bagels and pizza dough, bread, biscuits, muffins, coffee cakes, and more. I still own that book and use it often, as tattered and stained as it is. It still has the best cornbread recipe I’ve ever found. I also got the Tassajara Bread Book at that bookstore. It was in Santa Cruz that I ate my first taco and discovered my love for Mexican cuisine. I ate my first taste of Jicama at a potluck dinner in San Francisco that was a fundraiser for a Hispanic community and met Malvina Reynolds there.
We also discovered Peyote in Santa Cruz. We’d heard of it, of course, but hearing about it and trying it are two vastly different things. We got a batch and cleaned it thoroughly, removing all of the little while strychnine hairs. It was disgusting to eat, but once you vomited, it was like entering another world of light and color. It was the opposite of mushrooms, which I always found dark and foreboding. It was worth feeling like I was going to die for those minutes, which did seem like hours, until I purged the poison. It was easy to get, and eventually, we made it into iced tea. Our favorite snack became iced tea and pot cookies. Pot was readily and easily available as well. The Vietnam War had ended in April of 1975 and California was getting Vietnamese refugees. Some of them were a little sketchy, but we were all about peace, love and acceptance, so when we met a guy who offered to sell us a pound at an unbelievable price of $100, Paul decided to take the chance.
That was a lot of money for us back then, so we hit up two other friends to see if they wanted to get in on the deal. Of course, they did. The dealer was understandably very paranoid so they came up with a plan for Paul to walk through San Lorenzo Park and leave a paper bag with the money under the designated bridge where there would be a paper bag waiting for him there. He was not to stop but had to just pick up the bag and keep walking. When he got to the bridge, there was the bag with the dealer standing nearby. Paul picked it up and walked on. The dealer picked up the bag with the money, took a quick look inside and ran like a bat out of hell. At that point Paul looked inside the heavy bag and found a pound cake. By that time, the other guy was long gone. Paul came home a very seriously cut up the pound cake into equal portions and we all ate our hundred-dollar cake with a chaser of iced tea. Luckily, our friends were understanding, and we all chalked it up to a lesson learned.
So, why did we ever leave? That story is coming next.
One of the best things about living on the west coast in the 1970’s was the music. We saw the best shows there. Paul and I had been “Deadheads” for a while before making it west. So far, we’d only seen east coast shows. The Grateful Dead was a San Francisco band. We didn’t follow them around the country the way many others did, but during those traveling days we always seemed to be where they were. Who knows, maybe they were following us. The first Dead show I ever saw was 1972, somewhere in New Jersey. I struggle to remember details from those earlier days. Then Paul and I saw them together all over the east coast, mostly in New Haven and Hartford, Connecticut, New York City and New Jersey. East Coast concerts had a very different vibe than the West Coast shows. Some of the best shows were The Garcia Band with many different people sitting in including Papa John Creech at one show just blocks from our house where Amber could babysit. We saw Bonnie Raitt, Maria Muldaur and Emmy Lou Harris. We went to a local bar to see Neil Young’s band The Ducks, but Paul was too young to get in, so we stood outside and listened.
We also saw The Garcia Band with Nicky Hopkins at The Keystone in Berkley on New Year’s Eve. Jessie was four-months old. Although this was way before anyone even had car seats for infants, I was aware that the music would be too loud for her little ears, so I always managed to find a quiet spot where I could still hear and see. The Keystone was small, so it was trickier, but I found a backroom with a window that looked onto the stage. I could see well, and it was loud enough to hear. When the band took their break, I was sitting on a bench in that room nursing Jessie when Nicky Hopkins walked in and sat down. He explained that the crowd in the Green Room was sometimes too much for him during a gig. We chatted for a while, then he asked if he could hold my baby. He hung out and cooed to her a bit then left to go back onstage. He was a very cool guy.
Shows were mellower out west. There were shows everywhere and many free shows in and around Golden Gate Park. It wasn’t a long drive at all from our home in Santa Cruz up the coast to San Francisco. We still didn’t own a car, but our good friend did, and she loved the company. The deal always was that Amber would drive one way, and Paul would drive back. I was always either pregnant or holding a baby, since there were no car seats, yet and we were all very young. I didn’t mind not driving and still love having a chauffeur. That way, I get to enjoy the ride in a different way, though I really love driving when I’m alone.
On March 23rd, 1975, Bill Graham organized a fundraising concert to benefit the San Francisco schools. They had been forced to cut their budget and were doing away with all extra-curricular activities. This meant sports, and all of the arts, including music. The S.N.A.C.K. Benefit Concert, or S.N.A.C.K. Sunday, was an all-day musical and cultural extravaganza. Tickets were $5 at Kezar Stadium. It was the first large benefit concert in history and led the way for future ones. It raised almost $300,000, mostly in ticket sales, enough to cover the costs for one year. You can do the math if you want, I just know there were a lot of people there. The bands were Eddie Palmieri & His Orchestra, Tower of Power, Graham Central Station, Doobie Brothers, Jefferson Starship, Santana, Joan Baez, Grateful Dead with Merl Saunders on organ, Bob Dylan with The Band and Neil Young. Between sets there would be motivational speakers like Willie Mays, Jesse Owens and Marlon Brando and of course the mayor of San Francisco to rev up the crowd. It was an unbelievable concert. Everyone was great, but Santana blew away everyone else. He even came up and jammed with The Dead and whipped them into a frenzy. The parking was horrendous that day. We had to park miles away. Meanwhile, other people parked wherever they wanted and were being ticketed and towed. Pedestrians were everywhere blocking the roads, walking home or to our cars. I’ve been in some ridiculous traffic jams before, but this was the worst! It took hours just to get to the car because you couldn’t get across the street without climbing over someone’s car. But, we were all hippies and most of us were mellow … peace, love and all that. Here's the audio from that day.
Another great show was at Marx Meadows on May 30th, 1975 in Golden Gate Park with Jefferson Starship, Diga Rhythm Band and Sons of Champlin. The Sons of Champlin were a popular, mostly west coast band and were really great but never made it nationally. Stanley Owsley, or Bear as we known, the king of LSD and sound wizard, was running sound for Starship at the time and ended up running the board for The Diga Rhythm Band. The Diga Rhythm Band was an amazing percussion-based psychedelic world music band that consisted of, among others, Mickey Hart who was one of the drummers for The Grateful Dead, and Alla Rakha, a world renowned Indian tabla player who specialized in classical Hindustani music and often accompanied Ravi Shankar and appeared on many recordings. The Diga Rhythm Band sadly only played three public gigs, and I'm glad I caught one of them. That day, they were joined onstage by Jerry Garcia on guitar and David Freiberg on bass for an almost 15-minute version of "Fire On The Mountain."
They were awesome. The whole day was awesome but incredibly hot. It had been 94 degrees in a wide-open field with hundreds of hot sweaty hippies.
As always, we’d agreed that Amber would drive there, and Paul would drive home. Paul, not having a car of his own, jumped at the opportunity to be behind the wheel. He was also a great driver. Now, I have always trusted in the universe, or as some people refer to it, “Guardian Angels.” Well, maybe not always, but I did learn that lesson early. When you have that trust, you can be a little riskier. We all had trust, though Paul trusted a little more than anyone else. We took many chances based on the belief that things would always work out in the end. We followed the hippie motto, “Just go with the flow, man … go with the flow.” That day we had all smoked a little, some more than others. There was plenty of variety offered, and other delights as well. None of us really drank much if any now. I think we’d all burnt ourselves out on alcohol previously. I was pregnant as that time and wasn’t drinking at all. We were all exhausted, so Amber fell asleep next to the window in the front seat while I sat in the middle keeping Paul company while he drove. It was a breath-taking ride home down the winding coast along cliffs that sheer off into the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes we’d stop on that route and watch for whales swimming by. This day, however, everybody was beat and just wanted to get home.
I gazed out the side window for a just little while when I realized Paul hadn’t said anything in a little while. I looked up and saw that his eyes were closed with his chin resting on his chest. I couldn’t believe it! He hadn’t seemed sleepy only a few minutes ago. I certainly didn’t want to startle him and have him jerk the wheel and crash or plummet over the cliff to be dashed on the rocks below, but I didn’t know what to do. I gently said his name a few times, trying to keep my voice calm. Then, I noticed that he was actually driving … safely. I thought I’d better wake Amber. It amazes me now that neither of us ever freaked out. We just took it in stride that here was another bizarre experience in our lives. We quickly decided to be ready to grab the wheel if necessary and trust that it would be okay. We were very alert as he drove down Highway 1 in his lane, making all the curves, never speeding, going right down the road for miles, while we sat there willing the car to stay on its path. After many minutes, he rolled his head around, lifting it up to look ahead, stretched his shoulders and said, “Aah, that was a nice little nap. I feel really rested now.” Amber and I sat there incredulous with our mouths gaping open for minutes, then we both lost it. After holding in all the stress of that terrifying experience, it came out all at once. It was a combination of awe, anger and laughter. What an end to that day! Those are the experiences that really cement relationships. I wonder if it's because no one else would believe you but a fellow accomplice?
On September 28th, 1975, we went to a "secret" free show at Lindley Meadows in Golden Gate Park. It was billed as The Garcia Band and Jefferson Starship, but it turned out to be Starship and The Grateful Dead coming out of their break. They were great. There are disagreements about the attendance, but it was somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 people, turning on and tuning in. Phil Lesh said in his biography that it was the last time the whole band dropped acid for a show. It was a definitely a psychedelic scene that we just heard about through word-of-mouth. Whenever moving to a new scene, Paul always made connections fast and always heard about these shows through the grapevine. The next summer we heard about a bicentennial free show by The Grateful Dead on July 4th, 1976. Thousands of us showed up for that historic show that never happened. Various hippies kept calling Bill Grahams office to ask if it was happening, and they would decline to answer. We took that to mean that they were coming, but they never did. The park was filled with hippies having the biggest party that I have ever attended. Here's an Archive of the Dead's set.
I can’t even remember, let alone name all of the musicians I saw while living out there. There were always people showing up randomly to sit in with the different bands. We also did a lot of jamming ourselves. Our home was always filled with music. I sang all throughout the day, singing to my baby and myself and singing with Paul when he was home. We found many other musicians along the way, jamming at parties or just in small groups, learning new songs and writing our own. Much of my relationship with Paul was built on our shared music and crazy adventures. Rather than running away from home, we were both running toward a new home at breakneck speed. The music grounded and healed us, individually and as a couple.
It’s been incredibly fun and inspiring being in a band again. And not just any band, but a group of people who are tuning into the same channel as me and are open to exploring other channels as well. Music is a very personal thing. Because of that, the relationships within bands are important. I’ve been in bands where some people didn’t get along with certain others. It was just a personality thing. It happens. But I always felt as though the music suffered, at least for me. I play music mostly from my heart. Some musicians play mostly from their heads. We all play well. One might even argue that the musicians who play from their heads are more precise and therefore better players. I would argue that it depends on the listener. Like the musicians who create the music, there are some who listen more with their heads and others who listen more with their hearts. I’ve worked successfully with “head” musicians” because we got along personally and could work out any conflicts.
When I’m in a band, that band becomes another kind of family. All families have issues and disagreements and, all families handle conflict differently. Not all birth families share the same politics, career choices, lifestyles, diets, etc. but they can still get together as a family and appreciate and love each other. It’s the same for bands. You come together for the music from different places. Then, you “make beautiful music together.” An urban dictionary defines “making beautiful music together” as “having a great romantic relationship with each other.” It’s true. I have fallen in love with band members. How could I not, when we share a heart-to-heart connection every time we play together? Music is one of the most moving and bonding things that humans experience. Scientifically, it has been shown that engaging in musical activities releases dopamine and affects our endorphins which leads us to feel good and connect with others. Wow! No wonder I can’t stop. And, I’ve been doing this my whole life.
In the early 80s through early 90s, I was in a band in Albany. It was me, my husband Paul, and whoever else we could find. We named the band General Eclectic because when asked to describe our music one of us said, “Well … generally speaking … we’re pretty eclectic.” Hey, that would be a great name! We had a lot of fun and did some pretty crazy shows back then. It was in an era when bands would create cool flyers to hang up. We loved adding that to our creative resume. We played at least once a month, usually more, making unique flyers for each show. Sometimes our shows had themes. One was “On Beyond Zappa.” We did about 30 songs, one for each letter of the alphabet (by artist – Allman Brothers, Beatles, etc.) then a few originals. There was a prize for whoever could name every song and artist. We had one winner because we chose a lot of very obscure songs that crossed genres. It was such a popular show, we did a second one, “On Beyond Zevon.” That one was a bit more challenging since we couldn’t repeat an artist. We both really loved, and I still do love, a challenge. Below is the poster from one of my personal favorite shows. You will have to guess the theme from the clues on the poster because I’m not ready to put that in print yet. We had hoped to do three of these, but we only pulled off two of the planned three. They were very intense multi-media, and very multi-dimensional events. And, they were a lot of work and a lot of fun.
So here I am in a new band. We don’t really know each other well. They certainly don’t know a lot of my history, except for the little bits I’ve shared so far. And, I don’t know theirs, but I would like to. We’ve all come a long way on very different roads to get here. So far, we all get along well, and everyone seems to be pretty easy-going. I know that I’m not always the easiest musician to work with because I’m picky and also a total space cadet. Generally, I tend to be absentminded, clumsy (because of not paying attention), and I lose things constantly. I might be the most flexible person I know, going whichever way the wind blows. My partner describes me as spontaneous and never really plans on my being home when I say I will. Luckily, he doesn’t seem to mind. My music is definitely flexible also. I guess you could also call it spontaneous. I hope my bandmates don’t mind too much. So far so good, and I’ll keep trying stay on track, not that I’ve had a ton of success so far. Meanwhile, that spontaneity is helping us develop that all-important bond that grows each time we get together. I always look forward to band practice. That’s how I know this is working.
Ever since I moved to my current home in Petersburg, NY, I have said that I am living the life I never even dreamed was possible. I won’t go into the sordid details of why that is true, just know that after too many years of struggle, I am still amazed. My family responsibilities have lessened dramatically; although I’m certainly not rich, I am financially solvent; my life is mostly stress-free, other than the usual minor annoyances; I have a loving partner who is as easy going as I am, who shares the same ideals and beliefs, who is sharing a comfortable common lifestyle with me; and my home is peaceful and beautiful, surrounded by nature, the kind of home I’ve always looked for. All of these things have freed me up to pursue those dreams I never let myself have until now. As if all of those things aren’t enough, my home has a professional recording studio on the top floor and an incredible sound engineer to go along with it.
I have been a musician my entire life and working professionally since I was 15. I also started raising a family when I was 22 and struggled economically throughout. I continued doing gigs and writing songs, played with my husband, Paul Cavanaugh, in a rock band and dreamed of being able to release a CD someday. Alas, we never pulled that off. However, I finally did release a CD of mostly original folk songs and tunes in 2009 with my next partner, Dick Kavanaugh. We were Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh. That was thrilling and satisfied that goal. I started focusing more on my songwriting after that, booking singer/songwriter gigs, going to more workshops, etc. Around that same time, I started writing a blog and a series of memoirs. For years, people told me that I should write a book about my adventurous life but the idea of writing a whole book felt too overwhelming, so I started writing short memoir pieces. Then, after a music class one day, a dad from one of my classes asked if he could trade recording time for his daughter’s classes. Of course, I said yes and decided to try to do a solo CD.
During this process, I met Joel Patterson. He really is the “finest man.” We hit it off immediately and, after months of commuting back and forth between Petersburg and Albany, we realized how silly it was to keep two homes. So, he invited me to move in. I had been a member of a memoir group that met monthly and, one time, shared a song I’d written that went along with the memoir for that month. They knew that I was working on this CD and suddenly suggested an album concept of spoken word memoirs for each song. I mentioned it to Joel, who recorded all of the memoirs, the last three songs and mastered everything. Now, including an archival CD of General Eclectic, the rock band with Paul Cavanaugh, I have three CD releases of three very different styles of music.
So back to today … I have a new single. Dandelion Wine came into the studio last night to record “Finest Man.” I love this band! We work well together, and everyone brings something different to the mix. We’re all flexible and easy-going, and we’ve learned to go with the musical flow when necessary. I love that connection that all of the players get after working together for a while. The communication happens through the music almost without the need for words. These guys have been so accepting of the different genres of music I present and of learning more new songs than they might usually be working on, including my originals. And, I thank them.
When you live a life of hardship, you stop dreaming big. You take on an acceptance of whatever comes your way without expectations. It’s necessary to do that in order to survive intact. That’s why it’s so big when the things you never dreamed about just drop in your lap. In the past year, I have formed a band, gone to China, released an EP of children’s songs, released three music videos and now will be releasing an original single. Wow! Life is good! I am eternally grateful!
Last week, I thought I was going to write about being a more prolific writer in the winter, but a different post insisted on being written. Today, I have a snow day, the perfect time to write about winter writing.
As I was driving home from work after dark recently, watching the moon reflecting on the Hudson River and slowly rising over the Taconic Mountains, I recognized how many of my songs have those images in them. In a songwriting group I was in, some of my fellow songwriters commented on the recurring imagery in my songs, mostly involving nature and often the night sky. Although, the world is just as beautiful during the other three seasons, the beauty in winter is very dramatic from the spectacular night sky behind the bare tree branches to the stark grayscale colors and icy reflections. Although, I was born at the end of the summer, I seem to be drawn to that cold beauty. I also have a special fondness for the constellation Orion, and he comes around in the winter, appearing in many of my songs as well.
I’m not sure that’s the whole story, though. In the spring, summer and fall, I am busy with gardening, hiking, music festivals, travel and more. There’s not as much time for reflecting on life or nature. In the winter, I tend to hibernate more, reorganizing my physical space and my thoughts. I do love snowshoeing, but I can only do so much of that. There’s only indoor gardening to think about, so I have lots of time for the things I’ve neglected during the warmer weather. I tend to do more reading in the winter as well. I love curling up by the woodstove reading a good book. In addition, this home is the paradise I’ve been looking for my whole life. Why would I want to leave its warmth and comfort and venture out in the cold weather?
Every year though, I tell myself that I’m going to write songs for the other seasons and then never get around to it. I tried once to write a summer song and was told by that same group of songwriters that the music didn’t fit the lyrics. It was too somber for summertime. They were right, and it turned into a wonderful winter song, “It’s Gonna Be Cold Outside.” A few people have suggested that I put out a CD of songs for all seasons. That would be great if I had songs for every season, but it doesn’t look like that will happen any time soon, and that’s okay with me. I am a big believer in giving myself assignments for my writing, but maybe not this topic just yet. It’s winter right now, and once again I’m feeling inspired by the cold and barrenness. So … maybe someday. But for now, I’ll enjoy my hibernation and write what comes. All of my upcoming shows will have some winter themed songs, some original and some covers. I hope you can come out and enjoy hearing them as much as I enjoy writing them and then playing them.
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