Let Go. Make Something.

The Menacing Kitten: We stand against pegacorn discrimination.

[Originally posted on July 29, 2012. This post was very popular thanks to the amazing group of creatives known collectively as OK Go. They were kind enough to tweet and Facebook this to their fans, and they completely made my day. Okay, they made my month. I  credit a lot of good in my life to the power of their music. Also? they are very, very good to their fans. BUY THEIR ALBUMS, SEE THEM ON TOUR! They are good people.]

About a year and a half ago, I went on an OK Go video-watching binge on YouTube because I really, really love them and their stuff makes me happy.  On this particular night, I watched “A Million Ways” and “Here it Goes Again.” I have watched both of these videos many times without incident, but on this particular occasion I developed an itch in my brain.  It occurred to me that wonderful things are created when you allow your mind to wander outside of the expectations and the “shoulds” that are imposed on you.  Rock bands don’t dance;  they definitely aren’t supposed to incorporate West Side Story moves or twirl each other around in their videos. OK Go made these fun videos despite all the shoulds and shouldn’ts, and you can argue their success is found in their commitment to defying convention and following crazy ideas down the rabbit hole.  After watching these videos on this night, I finally got it:  Let go.  Make something. Just start with one thing.

At the time, I struggled with my first love, music.  Over the years, I made it mean too much to me and the piano became a stranger.  Art? I felt so out of practice, and was afraid to see what years of typing did to my ability to draw.  I decided to give writing a shot, so I tried writing a novel.  31,846 words later, I realized my story sucked.  On the positive side, the story allowed me to dive into a really weird and dark part of my personality and I got to handcuff myself to a chair in the name of research.

On the negative side, once again, Anne-Marie started a project she couldn’t finish.  It was like that Origami kit stuffed in my office closet, or paper quilling, or trying to learn the cello, or the million songs I have in Garage Band I just can’t figure out an ending to.  I wanted to actually finish something for once.  I also wanted to brush up my writing skills.  That itch still needed to be scratched.  So? I created The Menacing Kitten.

One year later, I am still here and I confirmed what I suspected about the Itch: once you let go and try, wonderful things start happening all over the place.  In the year I started this site, I:

  • Bought a guitar and wrote a couple of songs
  • Bought a graphics tablet and drew a pegacorn (as seen above, and yes, I’m re-posting it just to see the disgruntled look on my husband’s face)
  • Made an afghan

  • Made a bunch of hats and scarves that I donated to a homeless shelter (I kept a couple for myself so I could look all hipster chic on the three nights a year it isn’t sweltering hot in the desert)
  • Made an ass of myself promoting my site by singing a song on a phone line set up by OK Go for one of their band member’s birthdays. On the plus side, as a result of my mortification, I created Business Rule Number One for The Menacing Kitten: “If it feels dirty, it’s not worth it.”
  • Got something published on one of my favorite web sites (and I heard from a bunch of amazing people as a result)
  • Started to write about stuff I never had the courage to write about before
  • Started playing piano again
  • Wrote more songs
  • Wrote over 70 posts for this web site (and kept a set schedule!)
  • Began another novel and it might suck less than the other one
  • Finished my Woman Cave

This is where the magic happens. And by “magic,” I mean fumbling through “Maple Leaf Rag” whilst giving a Drunken History of Scott Joplin to guests.

  • Started an international cooking club (and discovered I make a killer ribollita and chicken mole)
  • Opened my site up to submissions
  • Joined Instagram with the goal of taking at least one photo a day with my iPhone of something I think is beautiful (@themenacingkitten, if you’re nasty)

  • Did all this while being promoted to senior management at my full-time job

 

So one year later, thanks to a video of four guys who aren’t afraid to do this:

I don’t think you’ll ever see Maroon 5 do the Cowboy-Horsie in a video.

I’m getting back in touch with a part of me I thought died years ago in the dusty corner of an office cubicle.  To date, I have made $0 from my site (I haven’t crossed the Amazon threshold for cutting a check yet, but I guarantee you I’ll post a picture of my first deposit), I have a modest number of people visiting my site (and I love every single one of you – even you, Person Who Found My Site by Searching “how does a virgin poussy look like” [sic and, sick]), yet because of this site, I have so many ideas swirling around in my head.  I’ve learned to let go and make things.  My hope is to one day create something so beautiful it will bring you to tears.  Maybe that’s for next year’s post.

And to the person who found my site searching for “peak elevation of the hike between monterosso and vernazza?”  I am so sorry you found a story about me taking a massive poop in a quaint Italian village.

A Kid in a Candy Store

[Originally posted on Sept 3, 2012. Wow, I've come a long way since this...]

“Yeah, man, we’ve got the M-Audio stuff over here.”

Salesdude A walked us past rooms of instruments to an electronic area.  It had been years since I stepped in a music store – for years, my journey was too painful to even think about playing.  I felt like a fraud.  Still, I walked past the instruments with a sense of reverence – these instruments were relics of the gods to me.  In my recent adventures in novel-writing, I am exploring the idea that we are all scientists in search of magic.  To vainly quote from this potential novel: “In our heart of hearts, we know there is an explanation for every mystery in the universe, but we want to find that one thing that cannot be explained; we want to walk amongst the gods and experience a divine beauty that separates us from mushrooms and protozoa…We want to explore that final frontier that takes us beyond truth and illusions, where magic is real.”

To me, the arts are magical.  To be able to hold an instrument – to connect to that universe of theory and space and sound, to string together a series of notes and create a beautiful, tangible representation of who you are, where you’e been and what you hope for, is a divine experience.  That is something I didn’t realize until I couldn’t do it anymore.  So in that moment, walking by the glossy shapes displayed along the walls – the Warlocks, Flying Vs and Stratocasters, I thought of the homes they would find, the magic that could be created on them, and the people who made those models famous.  Not all created a divine experience, but that’s just the bitchy music critic in me talking.

“Hey, we’ve got some nice guitars, huh?”

My reverence was broken by Salesdude A.  I was staring at the guitars as he pulled the M-Audio device out of a glass case for us.  “Yeah…” I was dismissive.  Guitar Center salespeople can get really pushy if they smell a purchase.  I also didn’t want to show what a fraud I was – I didn’t want to even touch the guitars, let alone play them.

“You play?”

“I used to.” I smiled and looked away.

“Bass was her instrument,” my husband offered. No, don’t go there…

“Yeah? Cool.  Did you check out our basses? I could go over there and pull one off the -”

“No, no. I’m good, thanks. I don’t play anymore.”  Please don’t talk about this.  My mind recalled chucking my bass into a landfill.  I didn’t even open the case to take one last look at it, as if it could establish some psychic connection with me.  I always think of that case as a closed casket.

“She stopped playing a few years ago, but we just got Garage Band, so she’s looking to get back into playing and writing,” Chris again filled in the blanks.

“Okay, cool.”

Fraud.

As Chris talked hardware geekstuff to Salesdude A, I looked around the store a little more.  To anyone who ever grew up wanting to be a rock star, music stores fill you with nostalgic memories.  I think everyone in that category has a memory of going to the local music store over and over and staring at that one guitar or piece of equipment you know you couldn’t afford.  You’d go in the store to buy something mundane like guitar picks or strings or something, and you’d check up to see if That One Guitar was still there.  It was, and if the guys in the store knew you well, they’d offer to take it down and let you tinker with it.  I accepted the offer only once.  The bass felt amazing in my hands – it was like putting your hands on the steering wheel of a Bentley.  I played the opening notes to “No Me Esqueca,” and my hands moved with ease over the strings.  It was a work of art, that bass;  at least is was when compared to my shitty Lyon bass at home that gave everyone else carpal tunnel when they played it.  The bass was under $1000, but there was no way I could ever afford it.  I wasn’t allowed to work, and saving my $1 a day of lunch money could only go so far.  I handed it back to them after only a few moments of playing.  Someday.

That little music store, Connecticut Music, almost felt like a home away from home to me.  It was family-owned and was in a little house across from a strip mall.  I still dream about looking in their store window to see what they had on display.  The family probably didn’t know me by name, but they knew me.  I was in there at least once a week.  Every major gift my parents got for me was purchased there – my Fostex X-26 (Christmas, 1989), my shitty Lyon bass (Christmas, 1990), a Crate amp (Birthday, 1991), the DR-550 drum machine (Birthday, 1992). I bought a few things on my own – a used cheapie Fender with one of those little beginner’s amps, and inexplicably, a florescent-colored tambourine.  The family was friendly to me and very supportive of the local artists – one time, they saw me walk in with the latest issue of Metal Edge (Don’t.Judge.), they opened it up to a picture of Steelheart, and told me to buy their album because they were from Stamford and we needed to support our local bands.  I secretly hoped one day they would do that with my picture.  Whenever my parents went in the store to buy one of those gifts, they would tell my family how much they could tell I loved music.

Looking at Guitar Center, I wanted to laugh.  I was never a fan of these places.  Sure, the selection is incredible – you could fit all of Connecticut Music in just the guitar room – but…the experience.  I watched Salesdude B do his pitch to a customer.  “Yeah, man, check this one out…” he took a guitar off its display rack, plugged it in, and did his best “I’m an awesome roadie tuning The Master’s guitar in front of the crowd at New Haven Colosseum” WHEEEEEEEE-bleezo-ble-ble-ble-ble-blittoblittoblitto-SQWEEeeeeeee-WOOOOOOWWWW thing on the guitar.  He looked at the slightly bored consumer – expecting approval, awe, and of course, sweet, sweet commission.  “Wanna try?”

I rolled my eyes a little.

We got what we needed and headed back up to the front of the store.  It was like that scene in Airplane! where all the solicitors are harassing the guy while the guy he walks through the terminal.  If Chris stopped at an instrument, someone would jump on us.  “Hey, hon check out this keybo-”

Salesdude jumps out.  “You like this keyboard? It’s really great! Check it out!” Plunk-plunk-plunk

No thank you and keep walking.

But Chris isn’t used to music stores, and there were a bunch of shiny new things for him to look at.  “That’s a big drum set…”

Salesdude.  “Yeah, great drum set! You play? You should!” Bow-rat-tatt-pow, splusshhh!

Chris, don’t feed the geese.  Keep walking.  Faster.

We bought our gear and I practically ran to the car.  I made a quiet promise to myself to avoid Guitar Center at all cost in the future.

In time, I let go a little and allowed myself to enter other music stores, attempting to leave the feeling of Fraud behind.  A couple of years later, I entered a family-owned music store to rent a cello.  I was admittedly a little terrified, but I got through it and rented my cello.  This past year, I went into a Music & Arts store to buy an acoustic guitar – I liked the environment.  The salespeople were really nice and helpful.  I told Chris that the place reminded me a little of Connecticut Music, even though I knew the store was a chain.  We returned a few months later to check out keyboards.  They knew we were just looking and wouldn’t buy on that day, and they still took time to talk to us.  No pressure.

Towards the end, we had a nice chat with the store manager.  “We can get things in, but we keep a limited stock here.  If you’re looking for a bigger selection, our parent store, Guitar Center, has a lot of options for you…”

I grimaced and heard Chris stifle a snicker.  We finished up looking at keyboards, thanked them for their time and walked out the door.  Chris smiled at me.  “You just died a little inside, didn’t you?”

“Yup.”

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Choose Your Own Adventure: The F’ed up Predestination Edition

[Originally posted on April 2, 2012]

Even though I didn’t go to church until I was in high school, I was always very spiritual and religious.  I wanted to know the right path to follow and do the right thing.  I read my bible, I read about other religions; I tried to make sense of all of it.  I figured the answer wasn’t found in any one religion, but in a commonality amongst all of them.  I searched for the commonality, and tried to live my life in the best way possible.

Around junior high, I experienced some difficulties in life – beyond social anxiety or your typical bullying.  A little voice in my head tried to reason with me – this is your lot in life, for now.  God will reward you later.  You are meant to suffer.  I developed a sort of nonsensical theory that life was a combination of both free will and fate.  Maybe reading about all of those different churches caused my brain to short out a bit, but I believed this.  I saw life as a tree with many branches, and with each choice you make, you’re following one of a few predestined paths laid out for you.

When I was in elementary school, I had a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book featuring Supergirl.  It contained four stories, each with a few different endings, depending on what decisions you made for Supergirl.  My favorite story involved her being trapped in some Wizard of Oz concoction Lex Luthor designed.  Until I had the book memorized, I kept on making choices that led Supergirl to die in the poppy fields.  Thanks to my own screwed up religious constructs, I turned my life into a freaking “Choose Your Own Adventure” book.  When you’re a kid, you know on some level you’ve got your whole life ahead of you and you can fix your mistakes fairly easily.  When you start to become an adult?  Well, it’s off to the poppies for you:

Battle social anxiety with therapy (go to page 83) or without therapy (go to page 94)?

Page 94 (of course): That’s right.  Therapy creates an excuse.  Pills mean Supergirl can’t deal with life and she’s weak.  God wants Supergirl to endure!  She needs to jump right in to social situations and use brute force to make herself less anxious.  Oh, here’s a social situation!  Two perfectly nice people are trying to talk to her.

“Hey, are you really the quietest person in the world?”

“Umm…” her throat tightens, her mind goes blank.  “…No?” (go to page 53)

Page 53: Supergirl collapses from failure and rejection, lands in a field of deadly poppies, dies.

Does Supergirl leave (page 30) or stay (page 32) in a semi-abusive relationship? 

Page 32:  The guy really wants to love Supergirl, she’s just being horrible.  If she wasn’t so needy and awful (and slightly overweight), he would treat her better.  And he wouldn’t leave her, either.  Because that just happened.  Supergirl? You are one unloveable, fat fuck. (go to page 53, and a gym)

Page 53:  Supergirl collapses from failure and rejection, lands in a field of deadly poppies, dies.

The head of Music Composition is a closed-minded dick.  Does Supergirl switch to General Music (page 112), or Jazz Studies? (go to page 24)

Page 24: Supergirl stumbles through her improv class, mentally and physically freezing up in the middle of “Watermelon Man,” her final.  She hears someone stifle a laugh in the classroom, because her improve sounds like a toddler on a toy piano.  Plus? A professor she looked up to just told her she got the worst grade in the class on her Music Engineering quiz, and looked way too pleased to inform her of that little nugget. (Go to Page 53. [Fuck! Not again! Ugh, fine…])

Page 53:  Supergirl collapses from failure and rejection, lands in a field of deadly poppies, dies.

Thanks to severe depression and untreated extreme anxiety, Supergirl can’t even sing in the shower without crying, because she hates the sound of her own voice and none of her melodies are good enough anymore.  Does she pursue a career in music and flog herself with self-hatred for all eternity (turn to page 53) or does she get a regular job with clear, objective accomplishments to assimilate into Normalville (turn to page 99)?

[Okay, not page 53 again. So…]Page 99:  Ha, ha! Fooled you! In Supergirl’s mind, God gave her a gift and she just pissed it away, so she’s only going to see opportunities as punishments for not following her dreams.  She only looks for low-paying work because deep down she knows she doesn’t deserve any better.  See, Supergirl always knew she was “less than” everyone else, so she had to be Supergirl and be perfect to deserve what anyone else had.  Did you really think by not turning to page 53 there would be a better ending?  There is no good ending in this book – either Supergirl dies in a poppy field, or the story simply ends, with her existence suspended on a single moment in time.  So, screw you.  THE END.

What happens after the words “The End?”  Do characters just hang in limbo, frozen in the final act?  Never dying, just existing in that single moment, knowing their only other alternative was death?  See, that’s the problem with any form of predestination.  We live from page to page, not realizing there is an existence that is beyond that stupid book with the limited endings.

A couple of years ago, it seemed no matter what path I chose, I wound up perilously close to falling in the poppies.  My dad died.  My best friend for over 30 years almost died.  My other best friend “dumped” me because she perceived my anger and misery as something against her personally.  Was my life awful because my Adventure had nothing but predetermined crappy endings?  No, my life was awful because a) I didn’t like myself and closed myself off from accepting good things or good people and b) Shit happens sometimes.

I realized that life isn’t “follow this path and you will die!” or “follow this path and you will win!”  It’s a little more like this:  hate yourself, and you can’t be happy.  Love yourself, forgive yourself, invite good people into your life (like, invite that funny chick at work to lunch, or email someone you haven’t talked to in a long time), and no matter the shitstorm, you’ll at least have good company to share it with.  As an added bonus, there’s a lot of mutual healing in said company.  And beer.

Somehow, opportunities open up, too.  When you realize you’re not destined to fail or destined to do That Thing You Were Born to Do, you start seeing all the other things you can do, and some of them are kind of fun.  Like, I don’t know, writing a blog and knowing there’s this one person in Malta that reads it on a semi-regular basis.  Or playing piano again and realizing it’s a lot more fun when you stop attaching any level of importance to every note you pound out.  You simply play because it’s beautiful and it warms your heart in a way you forgot.

So if you’re reading this and relate to any of my Supergirl Fails?  Close the book and look up.  It’s time to really choose your own adventure and be open to see the people who are ready to share it with you.

The Fabulous Five Observations of the Week, Part 1

Soooo… I really need to write more often and get back on the horse. This week nothing huge happened worthy of its own post, so I’m going to fill you in on 5 micro-postings that happened this week and my observations. If you’re tired of me talking about music, skip to number 2.

1. Support Feels Awesome
So I finally put myself out there and uploaded two tracks I recorded at home. I cannot thank everyone enough for listening, encouraging, sharing, reposting, etc. Look; I know this isn’t going to lead to anything big. I’m an overweight 38 year-old woman making music in my house. I’m not the kind of person a record company straps two whipped cream cans onto to create some infantilized masturbatory product (not that there’s anything wrong with that if you’re into that sort of thing?). It’s just that my soul comes alive when I write, and it feels special to share that with the internets. I want to share it with as many people as I can and find people who like This Thing That I Do. So thank you everyone. The biggest surprise is how many compliments I’m getting on my voice. I’m hoping I can keep up this charade that I can sing for a little bit longer! In a week or two, I’ll add two more songs, then I think I’ll wrap it all together as an EP. We’ll see how it goes. I want to bring good, quality stuff to you, and that is quite a challenge on a $0 budget.

Because releasing music also unleashes an inner urge to endlessly and relentlessly force a musician’s crap onto others, I provide you with this link to my Reverbnation page. If you like, please share. If you don’t? That’s okay, I still love you. In short, the more plays I get, the more I move up the chart and the more exposure I get, so if you love it? Don’t be afraid to listen to it often.

2. Big City Life: Mass Transit Wonders and Angry Pedestrians
I’ve been going into the city for seminars and whatnot related to my “Career Transition” (more on that later). As a result, I’m fully taking in mass transit and pedestrian life – something you don’t experience in Arizona. Here is a list of mini observations on this point:
- No matter how nice someone might be outside of their car, Bay Area Drivers are horrible, horrible people. There is so much impatience and law-breaking going on at any given second it is stunning.
- BART mid-day provides me with interesting seat partners. One day going in, despite many open rows, a guy decided to sit down next to me and engage in what I can only describe as a vigorous lotioning routine for the duration of the trip. Another day, I got a contact high from a kid who smelled like he was a 5’8” joint. I seriously hate the smell of weed with a passion – I would take cigarette stank over pot stank any day. Ughhhh.
- You know Shit Just Got Intense when you are walking across a major intersection in the Financial District during rush hour and EVERYONE stops and stares nervously at a pedestrian screaming profanities and punching the hood of a car. I don’t know what led up to that, but I know the guy probably needed a little bubble of space when he got to my side of the street.

3. Please Don’t Ask Me About My Career Transition
I am so freaking tired of this. I’m done defining myself as unemployed, so I’m not going to do that anymore. My onsite seminars are both incredibly useful and deflating. Everyone there is accomplished and amazing and I’m a simpleton. Every time I try looking for a job I get incredibly depressed, so I’m just done talking about all of this. When I find a job, I’ll let you all know, but until then? Let’s talk about anything but what I do or don’t do for a living.

4. OCEAN OCEAN OCEAN
On Friday, I decided to let spontaneity take over and accept my friend Kirsten’s spur-of-the-moment invitation to go into SF and hang out at the ocean. I’m glad I did – it was absolutely beautiful, it was my first trip on MUNI (which went through a bunch of cool neighborhoods), and I felt human again. It was nice to take a one day reprieve from the self-flagellating unemployment process and just enjoy the moment. I can seriously watch and listen to the waves crash in the Pacific for hours on end. I saw the sun turn into a sliver and set over the ocean. Why don’t I allow myself that kind of joy more often?

5. Sonoma is Beautiful
On Saturday, we headed up to wine country for a wedding. It is gorgeous up there – hills upon hills of golden vines, mountains in the distance… just breathtaking. The wedding took place at a vineyard and was absolutely lovely. It felt like the quintessential northern Californian wedding: wine, delicious food, guests from all over the world…it was a great way to end the week. Plus? I got Chris to dance with me to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” We’ve got to head back up there for a tasting tour some time.

The Elephant in the Room: Here’s Where I Unleash My Music

Note: I’m putting the music on top so you don’t have to read and be like, “just get on with it already!” But if you want some info and background, please read below the widget. BTW, the widget started to look chopped off in my browser – if you only see one song, scroll and the second one is there too. I have no idea why it’s doing that…Also?
HELP! GAHH! I’m trying to figure out what I want to do in terms of offering these to download. I would like to start out simply offering to sell these as single downloads for a cheap price – just something to help me offset fees, save up for better gear, etc. I feel really presumptuous asking people to pay, but…I should, right? Should I? I’m new at this and I have no freaking clue what I should be doing. I’m researching things like CDBaby and ReverbNation’s services, and I’m not sure they fit what I’m looking for at this point. So...if any of you have experience with these services and are willing to offer advice, feel free to leave me a comment below or email me (submissions@themenacingkitten.com) Thanks!

 

 

People have told me that they appreciate how vulnerable I’ve been on this blog. I’ve talked to you about my depression, my social anxiety, dealing with my father’s death and my reluctance to let people into my life. I’ve touched on songwriting and music in some of these posts, but until now it’s been the elephant in the room. Talking about most of the things I struggle with never felt all that vulnerable to me. Music? Well, this is a true vulnerability for me. This feels like a release of control, and I’m a little terrified.

Why am I terrified? I talked to Chris about this a while ago: you’d think that people hating my stuff would be the biggest fear. It’s not. Hate is an emotional response, and it means I created something that triggered an intense emotional reaction. A moment of rupture. Art! Um, yay? Seriously though – I know what I’ve created isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. I’m mentally prepared for that. So what is it?

Apathy.

This is something that is in my bones. It has been a part of me since I could barely talk, and it’s the thing that both carried me through hard times and broke me. My biggest fear is to unleash this piece of me and no one cares. Okay – some of you care, because you’re my friends and family. But I mean, what if no one cares? Like, people listen to it and think, “gee that’s nice; soooo…what’s for dinner?” And they never play it again. They leave it behind and it’s meaningless. Again, I expect that to happen to some people, but I am terrified that will happen to all the people. Why? Because I care so much. This stuff is me. What you are seeing here is the ultimate vulnerability.

After Chris bought me my keyboard and my hands found their way to a new song, I wanted to cry. I was so removed from the theory of it all, I wasn’t even sure what key I was writing in, but like I did when I was a little girl, I trusted my ears and the little atrophied hamster in my brain hopped back on a wheel and started running. This note has to go here, that note has to go there where is this melody coming from wordsaredanicnginmyheadand…ta da! Song. It was a shitty song, but it was a start. In time it led to other songs, like these two:

NOWHERE LEFT TO RUN
I just wrote and recorded this on Friday, and I liked it so much it replaced what I originally intended to post. This is an odd one in that the main keyboard riff is a take on something I wrote when I was 14 and appeared in a song I wrote when I was 19. I normally am unable to recycle my stuff, but the riff haunted me a little and begged for a new melody, lyrics and structure. I am really, really happy with the lyrics in this song; despite the serious subject matter at the core of it, they were a shitload of fun to write. I mean, how often can you incorporate Publisher’s Clearinghouse into a song? There’s something special and magic-y about this song (at least to me) and I am excited to share it.

BLACK TO ALABASTER
Yes, I want to be a magician. Here’s my theory for how I could achieve magic:

Well-written song + solid recording + ??? = MAGIC!

I’m working off of mostly old, crappy gear in my house. My mic is roughly 16 years old, I only have GarageBand (which Chris messed around with to keep the integrity of some of the sounds that morphed or disappeared over the years), and I also really suck at mixing things. I have like, zero aptitude for the technical side of music. I see more than five knobs on a soundboard and I turn into Rain Man after he burns toast. But, this song is somehow working for me. Perhaps it’s so new I haven’t had a chance to imagine how it should sound. It’s not perfect. It’s just a simple piano and voice demo and has some clear areas where it could be better, but I’m happy with it. It feels a little magic-y for me.

Anyway, here’s my heart and soul. I hope you like it. I have roughly 20 songs I’m working on right now, so as I get them to an acceptable level and they don’t suck, I’ll be adding more. Thank you for listening and letting me share this with you. Sincerely.

Sorry Everyone, I Suck

Hi everyone,

It’s been too long since I posted, so consider this an update of sorts. Since my last post, I’ve probably written 5 posts I didn’t feel were good enough to publish, so I’m just going to wing this and get something out to you. So, a few of you know that I took part in the world’s longest layoff, which began well over a year ago when I suspected my position would be nixed. The end of last month was my final month at my former company, which was after receiving several extensions. My original end-date was supposed to be December 2012, so it’s been a long road. I can’t really complain; it’s the nature of the business – the bigger company took over our little company, saw redundancy and eliminated all of us. I worked hard up to the end and got a decent severance, so…I guess that’s fine.

Here are 5 random things I’ve observed about the process of being laid off over a period of a year:

1. Brain feels mushy. Not having a career goal for a year is not good for anyone who is goal-oriented.

2. It really sucks laying people off who you’ve known for years, knowing they have families to support and are also damn good at what they do.

3. Spending the last 5 months working remotely as a person marked for layoff is bad for creative writing. While my officemate is awesome (in particular because she’s furry and likes having me around), I feel like an isolated pariah and don’t really have a whole lot to write about at the moment. It’s weird. As part of my severance, I am working with a “career transition” place which has helped me leave my cave and go back into the wild to some degree.

4. Despite having no job this month, I’ve been really active? How did that happen? I’ve done a shit ton of hiking this month (I’m averaging somewhere around 30 miles a week), I’ve been taking lots of online classes…and I’ve been writing a lot of music – more on that in a minute.

Before I move on to the fifth observation, I have to point out that the Old Spice “lizards eating your legs” commercial just came on. That is fantastic. I love that their commercials are so WTF that you have to go back and rewind them because your subconscious is like, “wait…what?” Well played, Old Spice. Well played. Ok…. 5th observation:

5. While my regular writing has suffered, this layoff has been great for my songwriting. I seriously think I’ve written some of my best stuff ever over the past year. It’s different and it’s exciting. I believe in it. Now my ability to record the songs? That’s a different story. I’ve been in a recording hell over the past couple of weeks – my gear is outdated, and every time you put a mic in front of me I suddenly get a stuffy nose, a tickle in my throat, or my neighbors decide to break the concrete in their backyard with a jackhammer. I want to create something magical, and I know it’s in me – I’m struggling to get it out. But I’m determined to publish my songs on here. I have to. Enough of my procrastination and self-doubt. Before the year is out, I want to share at least 4 of my songs with you. So send good recording vibes my way, because I need them. I can’t explain it, but the job loss has made this aspect of my life very, very important.

Anyhoo, that’s what’s going on. I’ll try and post more often, but unfortunately, I can’t guarantee I’ll be awesome. In the meantime, if you want to see what I’m up to in small doses, check me out on various social media:

- I post a LOT on Instagram (@TheMenacingKitten)

- I post sometimes on Twitter, (@MenacingKitten), but 90% of my posts are Instagram posts. If you want to chat, I always respond to tweets, though. There isn’t enough conversation on Twitter, and I love chatting with people.

- I also still have my Facebook Page, which you can like. I’ll try and post a little more often on there to make up for my lack of posting on this site. As with Twitter, if you post on my page, I’ll definitely respond :)

I hope all is well for all of you. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the support you’ve given me, and I feel kind of like a shit for not posting more often. I really hope you stick around and I can share my music with you.

Take care,

Anne-Marie

2013 Bucket List: Get the Funk Out

Naturally, my bucket list is held in an ice bucket.

At the beginning of 2012, I decided to create a bucket list of things to accomplish for the year. Looking at the original blog post, I actually didn’t do so bad:

Start an international cooking club
Did I do it? YES! It was a hit, and I had a blast experimenting with different dishes – Kalua pork, ribollita, pots de creme, chicken molé … unfortunately, since we are in the process of moving, I had to discontinue my participation. My husband is currently recruiting Bay Area people to take part once I move up there, so hopefully we can start it up again.
What did I learn?
1. It’s okay to screw something up.  I totally messed up my garlic aioli. It was inedible. Surprisingly, I was okay with this; I had a back-up plan (gruyere sauce), and failing is a necessary part of experimentation.
2. A good party, even a food-oriented party, is about the people. Pretty design and delicious food is great, but the most important thing to do is to make sure everyone is relaxed and having a good time.  We had a ton of laughs with our friends over good food and wine.

Do a DIY/Repurposing project
Did I do it? Yeah, no. Bless all of you who have the patience and ability to do this sort of thing. I pretty much lost interest in this task within a month or two.

Make 100 hats for the homeless
Did I do it? Not really. I’ve made about 30 or so. It’s not bad, but it’s not 100.
What did I learn? Doing something – anything is valuable. And hands get all crampy when you’re knitting or crocheting constantly.

Do one thing I’ve been afraid or resistant to do
Did I do it? Yes! After a few chicken moments, I stepped out of my comfort zone a few times. I got braces – something I’ve always needed, but was hesitant to do. I’m an adult – it felt weird doing it at my age.  The cost is also astronomical, as most plans don’t cover adult orthodontia. I’m super self-conscious about them, but hopefully it will pay off when I’m done with them next February. I also submitted a few articles to various places – something I was afraid to do for a while.
What did I learn? I am an overthinker. Sometimes, overthinkers need to just cannonball into the damn pool rather than stand at the edge for 20 minutes.

Learn all three movements to “Moonlight Sonata”
Did I do it? I got the first one down…
What did I learn?
1. Don’t commit to all three movements until you have looked at the sheet music. Because the third movement? Holy shit.
2. After years away from the piano, I discovered that I still have that tendency to meander away from practicing to create my own music.
3. I’m okay with that.

Run a race and hike a mountain
HHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHAHahahaha….
Heh.
*sobs*
*Eats a piece of leftover port wine cheeseball*
nnooommmmm

Get my blog to average 100 visitors a day for a week
Did I do it? YES! Thanks to Jezebel and my beloved OK Go.
What did I learn? Quick story time: Just before OK Go retweeted and Facebooked my creativity post, I was dealt a pretty crushing blow at work. I expressed interest in an internal job I would have been FREAKING AWESOME in, and they gave me the “we’re looking for someone with more experience” line. Without even bothering to look at my resume. This was pretty crushing because my instincts (correctly) told me this position would have been my only real chance to have a long term role in the company. See, I’m in middle management and my company was absorbed by a larger company the year prior. What does that mean? Ginormous target on my back. Despite my ninja-style ass-kicking abilities on a number of projects, ultimately I was nothing more than a name to be crossed off.
I was pretty crestfallen and cried in a bathroom stall for several minutes. I returned to my desk, unsure of how I could get through the day without letting on how upset I was. No one wants to cry at work. There, I discovered the retweet and Facebook post. No, it didn’t change my life, but it got me through the day with a smile on my face. I knew it wouldn’t mean fame or riches or anything ridiculous like that, but seeing the warm responses from all involved reminded me that there’s a lot more to me than being a manager or a data analyst.  I deserve better than bullshit (so do you).  I need to keep reminding myself of that, even now.

What’s Next?
You will notice the title for this is “Get the Funk Out.” You will also notice that my posting schedule is all over the place.  I’ve got a lot going on in my life and in my brain. Rather than being Supergirl and doing it all whilst rocking that sex-ay red and blue unitard, Asshole Brain decided to be depressed, non-productive and unable to string a bunch of sentences together. Seriously, I feel like I’m getting dumber by the day. Damn you, Asshole Brain. So for 2013? I’m keeping it simple:

1. Get out of this funk. Especially by the end of March when my job is done. It’s a blessing I’m going to have the ability to take a little time off and I don’t want to waste it sleeping until 11am and watching The Doctors and shit. I have no idea how I’m going to do this, but I have to. If I want to have success outside of the 9 to 5, office drone BS, I absolutely have to get out of this and make the most of my time off.

2. Start posting my music online. I have a goal of doing the RPM Challenge next month. If I can’t make that happen, I still need to post something. I’m writing a decent amount of music right now and there is one song in particular I am really proud of. I don’t expect anything to come of it, I just feel like I need to put it out there and hope people who would like this sort of music can find me and enjoy my stuff.

3. And um, I guess I need to figure out what the hell happened to my Amazon Affiliates link? When did that happen?

So, that’s my 2013. Easy, right?

I Would Never Ever Ever Ever Ever Ever Call This Punk

This "Girl Punk Movement" is as authentic as stock photos of punk girls. ROWR! HOAs R OPPRESSIVE!

Before any tween happens upon this and goes ballistic, let me start off with this: I don’t particularly mind Taylor Swift as a concept.  She has a hand in writing her own music, and she can actually do things on her own, like play guitar and fog a mirror and stuff – as far as anything that is played on the radio goes, that’s about as much as you can hope for these days.  She seems like a nice enough girl.  Her songs are catchy, and she writes well for her intended audience. I recognize that.

That said, I have never (ever?) seen a PR Anvil like I have seen for her new single, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”  The Clear Channel Abomination (oh, I’m sorry, it’s now called I HEART ABOMINATION) I have my alarm set to usually doesn’t play music until it’s approximately 9 months past its expiration date, yet they aired this new single within like, 5 seconds of its release.  Seriously – I heard it at 5 in the morning that very day followed by an audio clip of some interview with her.  This is coming from a station that plays “Hungry Like the Wolf” at least 3 times a week at 5:30am.  By 8 a.m. that morning, every news outlet had an entertainment story about the song, with titles like, “Who Is She Writing About?” “John Mayer and His Nazi Penis Gets Dissed by Pop Princess!” “Some Jonas Guy Stays Relevant and Says Song Isn’t About Him!” By 5 p.m., the article titles evolved to “TAYLOR’S NEW SINGLE IS MOST AIRED EVRRR!”  Yay for her.

I draw the line, however, when NPR weighs into the hoopla with the article, “Taylor Swift, Princess Of Punk?”

I’m creating a new paragraph not because it is grammatically correct; I want your eyes to rest on that title for a moment.  Let it marinate in your head and gurgle in your esophagus.

The author, Ann Powers, is actually a well-established writer who has written about women in rock for years and years.  She knows what she’s doing, right? One would assume she knows the world of punk, yet…

Yet…

WHAT IN THE WHAT?

Punk.  Punk?!?

Punk.

What is punk?  There’s a wide variety of punk out there.  Some of it sounds like this:

 

And some punk sounds like this:

But I guarantee you none of it sounds like this song.  Powers discusses a sort of modern-day “punk movement” in female pop music, dating back to that wild and crazy time Kelly Clarkson flipped the bird in her video for “Since U Been Gone.”  Breakaway is a great pop album, no lie;  It is not a punk album.  It is not even in the district of punk. It might be a distant moon on the edge of the punk universe where guitars, drums and some semblance of talent exist just outside the gravitational pull of The Great Auto-Tune Black Hole of Suckage that drains the life force out of everything good and original to spit out cotton candy-scented masturbatory fantasies.  In other words: catchy? Yes.  Talented? Sure.  Punk, or even the catch-all Columbia House Record Club category of “Alternative”? Not by a mile.

Flipping off the camera in your high-dollar music video does not make you punk.  Unless you come across as a girl-next-door type, like Clarkson always does, flipping off a camera just makes you look like a spoiled brat.  As the emo movement proved long ago, brats are not punk.

I suppose Powers’ angle is to celebrate the message of Independent Girl and feminism in these songs.  The problem with this idea is the songs mentioned in her article aren’t about independent women, they are about young women attempting to validate their existence after some guy dumped them.  That’s all fine and good for the Billboard Hot 100 – hey, radio would be a lonely place without a bunch of singable break-up songs – but let’s not confuse that with feminism.  Or, you know, punk.  Is this what we’re settling for now – both musically and as women? Have we really become so formulaic and compliant that stepping a single toe out of our Mary-Sue caricatures is considered revolutionary?  Sprinkling one grain of salt on your treacle is the new punk?

Ladies? I love a good pop song – there is truly nothing wrong with something that makes you want to sing, dance, or smile; but if this is what we now consider counterculture? We’ve got to put away the Stepford sundresses and sing louder, rock harder and just flat out do better.  Please.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Rhythm Nation: Music, Poetry, Dance, Unity (Part 2)

If you are just joining us, we’re covering Janet Jackson in the late 80s and early 90s.  Last time, we discussed her breakthrough album, Control.  Today? We are a part of the Rhythm Nation.

Coming off the success of Control, A&M wanted Janet to continue the momentum by releasing an album to be called Scandal, which would continue with the theme of separating from her family.  Jackson was ready to move on from that part of her life, and instead desired to create a concept album about social injustice with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis again at the helm.  The result was Rhythm Nation 1814, an achievement in its innovation of programming and sampling as well as its unique voice in bringing social issues to the dance-pop-R&B arena.  What is remarkable about Rhythm Nation is its ability to maintain a consistent and cohesive sound while exploring different genres.  Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are able to tie together songs like new jack “Alright,” the poppy “Escapade,” and the hard rock “Black Cat” seamlessly.

As a companion to the album, Jackson put together a long-form video telling the story of two friends whose dreams are ruined due to drug use.  Admittedly, the story not very memorable, as my friends and I recalled it being about “gangs or something.”  It did succeed in introducing a distinct look and feel for Rhythm Nation, creating an image for the album that still holds to this day – black and white shots of gritty streets and warehouses juxtaposed with a military-style community of dancers.

To support the album, Janet kicked off her first-ever world tour, which remains the most successful debut tour by an artist to this day.  The tour not only promoted the image and message of Rhythm Nation, it also furthered Janet’s image as a role model for young women – many a teen in the early 90s would don the “Janet Jackson Look” of white shirts, black leggings and black jackets.

Janet did her best to make Rhythm Nation a way of life and a positive message for her young fans.  The album kicks off with the title track.  In a sense you can say Control is about the responsibility of taking care of yourself, and Rhythm Nation is about the responsibility of taking care of others.

The video again has a great look to it, but in terms of message, I’m not sure how helpful a Rhythm Nation is in fighting substance abuse.  It’s like, I’m at the lowest point in my life; it’s literally raining on my face, and I’m scared and afraid – how will I go on?… RHYTHM NATION DANCE TEAM, ASSEMBLE! Shoomp-Shoomp “Ho!”, Shoomp-Shoomp “Ho!” – ??? Joking aside, the music and dancing is pretty badass for Miss Jackson.

Continuing on with the social themes, we have “State of the World” and “The Knowledge.”  “State of the World” steps up the lyrics from the previous track, providing more of a landscape for the message of injustice.  “The Knowledge” is another good choice lyrically, fighting against ignorance and drug use.

Then? The album really takes off with the infectious Chaka Kahn-ilicious “Miss You Much.” It’s songs like this, “Escapade” and “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” that make you forget this is only one album.  On one hand you have the socially conscious songs, but you also have these feel-good songs about love and camaraderie.  These are solid pop songs with catchy melodies and a danceable beat.

If YouTube existed back in the day, I so would have tried to learn all the moves in this video and danced all day in my basement.

After the thoughtful “Livin’ in a World (They Didn’t Make),”  camaraderie and good times continue with “Alright.”  The song is worth mentioning for its delightful video featuring legends Cab Calloway and Cyd Charisse (whose legs deserved a separate credit even at 67 years old):

The highlight of the “B side” of the album is the Jackson-penned “Black Cat.”  Crisply-produced with a touch of guitar-rock edge, the song gave Jackson crossover appeal and showed that like her brother Michael, she was fearless in exploring sounds outside her wheelhouse:
(video)

Finally, as a tie to the coming of age underlying theme of Control, Rhythm Nation and Janet, we have the smooth and breezy “Someday is Tonight,” which is a companion piece to “Let’s Wait a While.” It’s lyrics directly referencing the latter song off Control, this song is subtle and breathy, with Janet dipping her toes into the waters of sensual R&B.  In its quiet way, it is an introduction to her next album, an album that is a much more vocal celebration of  sexual liberation.  It really, really, celebrates the sexy. Next time? Get your hand fan and fainting chair ready, because we’re taking on Janet.
   

Janet, Miss Jackson if You’re Nasty (Part I)

Let me go on record as saying Janet Jackson ruled the universe between 1986 and 1994.

For any girl hitting her formative years in the late 80s and early 90s, Janet’s recordings during this time were a soundtrack for life.  She was a different kind of female role model compared to her contemporaries – strong, self-assured and self-efficient.  The three albums in this time frame, Control, Rhythm Nation and Janet represent a coming of age – the awakening that occurs when you see a world available to you that you never knew existed, with each album representing a different stage of this awakening.

With Janet’s name being tossed around as a potential judge on American Idol, this is as good a time as any to do a retrospective on these three albums.  After the Super Bowl brouhaha and a few albums over the past 10 years that didn’t leave an imprint on the music scene, it’s easy to forget how important Janet Jackson was in the late 80s and early 90s.  She not only helped influence and usher new jack swing into the Hot 100, she inspired young women everywhere.  Today we’ll start with her breakthrough album, Control.

Control
A story of liberation from family

To give you a little background on Janet, prior to this album, her career was managed by her father Joe Jackson.  Joe Jackson’s “management style” for his children is both well-documented and well-speculated upon, containing lovely vignettes like how he demanded Janet stop calling him “dad” when she was seven because he was her manager.  Her two albums prior to Control were under his grip, containing music she had zero input on.  Ultimately, while still a teenager, Janet made the difficult choice of firing her father.  She escaped his world in Hollywood to join Prince proteges Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in Minneapolis to create an album far from the distractions and hauntings of L.A. Six weeks later, the 19 year-old Jackson gave us Control.

If there was ever a more suitably titled album, I cannot think of it.  From the start, the vision of the album is clear; it’s a statement of believing in your own power and not letting anyone get in your way.  This is a vision that is realized through lyrics and through an infectious sound you simply did not hear on the radio in 1986.  The opening track, “Control,” is the story of declaring your independence from family; it’s a statement that everyone must leave home and find their own way.  The opening dialogue to the song introduces the theme of the entire album: “This is a story about control, my control.  Control of what I say, control of what I do.  And this time I’m gonna do it my way.”  She then sings about the importance of calling your own shots and not letting people make decisions on your behalf.  She wants to  “take you by the hand and lead you in this dance, ‘cause what I’ve got is because I took a chance.”

You’ve got to hand it to Janet – to fire your own father, specifically a figure like Joe Jackson, was probably the hardest and scariest thing she ever had to do.  Fans of Janet like myself are grateful she took the chance, because where would she be if she didn’t?  I’ll give you a hint – you probably didn’t even know she had two albums prior to Control, did you?

Here’s Janet rocking it out in video:

Ironically, during the making of this video Joe Jackson was said to be a holy terror on set.  He reportedly lashed out at several people and physically threatened the producer of the video, Sharon Oreck.

Next up on the album is “Nasty”, a song inspired by men who harassed Janet when she was walking to and from the studio. It’s like “These Boots are Made for Walking” in that it is a rare song about a woman who demands respect and proper treatment – she’s not asking you, she’s telling you.  With a fantastic beat backing it, she lets young women know it’s okay to tell someone to BTFO, and you’re not a prude for demanding someone treat you appropriately.  If you look at the top 100 songs of 1986, I challenge you to find another song that has this level of assertion.

Plus? It has some killer choreography from Paula Abdul in the video (who also plays one of Janet’s friends):

If you did check that list of top 100 songs, maybe you did find one other song on the list to challenge “Nasty”: The third track on this album, “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” This is no “Can’t Help Loving that Man of Mine.”  All too often in pop music we have songs that are about women who oh-so-adorably-tee-hee can’t leave their asshole boyfriends because, OMG, they’re just so cute and amazing when they don’t completely suck.  The most extreme example of this is the worst song Carole King has ever written, The Crystals, “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss).”  Janet turns this sentiment on its head and and puts the asshole boyfriend on notice.

This video has another appearance by Paula Abdul, and again features her choreography.  When you watch and listen to these videos it really drives home how lazy today’s pop music is as a whole – people have their bland voices auto-tuned onto bland, uninspired music, and their dancing is just…well, it ain’t this.

The final song I’ll cover on the album today is “Let’s Wait a While,” although if you are unfamiliar with this album I also recommend checking out Janet’s video for “The Pleasure Principle” – it is another great song, and I particularly love that this video is simply Janet dancing in a studio.  It’s mesmerizing from start to finish.

On “Let’s Wait a While,” Janet makes another important assertion – the song promotes abstinence and waiting for the right time in a relationship.  In the three albums we discover, this is the first song in a series of songs Janet covers about sexual intimacy.  For the final line of the song, she sings “I promise, I’ll be worth the wait.”  You kind of get the sense on Janet that she kinda followed through on that one, because, damn.

But, that’s a story further down the road – next up? We have Janet’s liberation in full bloom and her desire to shine her light on that path for others.  We’ve got Rhythm Nation 1814.