Finding the Cost of Freedom

  
Find the cost of freedom

Buried in the ground

Mother Earth will swallow you

Lay your body down.  CSNY

Randy would not be the first or the last gay man I fell for. I never pieced together the hitchhiking he did from work instead of taking the bus, and the expressed hopes to pick up someone “interesting.” I’m guessing now that he got paid on the side for his lovely looks: from delicate hands to his big style and classy flare. Anyone else with more exposure might have known, but no one in my town growing up was gay–except my sister’s best friend and the drama department at school, to my knowledge. It was the late 70s and no one was gay–openly. I just never suspected that men could be anything but interested in me as a female, someone to stick a dick into at the very least. My worldview was small, provincial, like the state I grew up in despite its savvy sensationalized reputation world wide to the contrary, no doubt based on one city, a small piece of real estate relative to the entirety of the state with its miles of farmland and country roads.

It was after these first 6 months or so on my own, working, going to school, quitting school and trying to make a life nearly on my own, a lonely pursuit of angst-filled growth and delirious abandon, when I concluded that I wished my parents would have reigned me in more, made the effort; my limitations were few and the responsibility of that freedom was overwhelmingly burdensome. I was lonely, and my life felt like one huge scary spin of outright disregard for my own safety–even to a 17 year old alley cat on a crash course to world wise self-sufficiency.

 
credit: http://www.thewolf.ca

Horror and Music

  

 

 
You want horror? I’ll give you horror.
 
You want music? How about a dirge?

How about the feeling of feeling nothing?

Not fear or love or even boredom. Not feeling.

How horrible would that be? Or maybe not.

How about brain tumors and skin cancer?

Who doubts rectal cancer’s horror, rotting from

the inside out, reeking inverted guts exposed?

What about bloat, the Great Dane disease,

their intestines twist-knotting them to death?

And perfect lovers meeting at the worst time,

both stuck inextricably in others’ lifeless lives?

Shattered happiness is horror, potential lost,

Losing a child or a loved one’s murder, terror.

How do you recover from sending your child 

off to school just to find her dead, shot up by

a murderer festering in a room, a closed door

emerging for a brief fatal foray out of alienation?

I cannot write any greater horror. Unimaginable.

How to write horror stories worse than the real?

Controlled horror in letters would play us God.

We can manage and shape–to know the ending. 

To know: Coping with horror is to make it. Write.  

Just–in time

She barreled through the classroom because she was a barrel, as wide as she was tall, and she was tall. Young, vibrant and cheery with an obvious eye for the boys in the classroom so much so that even I knew at a sullen and cynical 14 that she craved attention. Perhaps her size measured her insecurity.

She had ink black straight hair, long, parted in the middle falling down her back. Her thick black eyeliner matched the color of her hair and framed her deep brown crinkling eyes. She smiled a lot, teasingly–especially with the boys.

I resented her flirting in slight sexual innuendo, all for male attention, just like I disliked my mother’s constant catering to my father who, in return, called her “fat ass” or “sumbitch.” An adolescent of the woman warrior seventies,  I believed in taking no shit. Miss Hill’s pandering to the scarcely post-pubescent boys was shit; it annoyed me, which conflicted with the attraction to her enthusiasm for my favorite subject, English.

I wanted not only to like her, to take her seriously, but for her to notice me, despite the quiet and unprepossessing persona I wore at the time. An ‘A’ student, I yearned to be recognized for my smarts–my perceived strength.

“This is a wonderful piece, something I can see Janis Ian or Carole King singing,” she scrawled in large, deep-ink flourishes in my journal. She had assigned a journal at the beginning of the year, instructing us, the class, to write our thoughts–whatever we wanted–just to incent us to write. With such loose parameters, I wrote poems, cherished song lyrics, doodles and observations, all of which added up to my solitary, dark, introverted teenager dreams and drama.

Music–all kinds–made my world back then: everything from hard rock/metal to folk to classical. Before that sophomore year, I was a cellist. The local elementary school offered music lessons to third graders and so I learned the cello (after the music teacher grabbed my hand, looked at my long fingers and decided cello it would be instead of the violin I and everyone else pleaded for). I played second or third chair in the orchestra throughout my school years up to 9th or 10th grade when I perfected a full time recreational weed and boys pastime.

I especially loved fine lyrics: the poetry of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Dylan. That year Phoebe Snow sprung on the scene with Poetry Man, which prompted me to buy a couple of her albums. Her warbling jazz-soul sound, intoned from a space between her nose and throat in the register of a deep tenor or high alto, intrigued me. And some of her lyrics spoke bitter-sweetly about disappointment, fear and inadequacy. I felt her.

One song in particular consumed me so that I memorized the lyrics after too many spins of the vinyl. The title described my life–as I felt it: “Inspired Insanity.” The piece still holds a foundational place in my music history more for its statuesque placement from an impressionable youth and sentimentality than for its musical appeal.

In fact, a friend recently asked me to name a favorite song–seemingly impossible–but for the qualification that it somehow represent me. Instinctively, I named “Inspired Insanity” more likely from habit or history than actuality, but it was the first song that came to mind.


I’ve since moved across ample fields of genres and artists to add much more sophistication and style than her simple folk-jazz temperament into my listening repertoire occasionally moving back again to folk, where music returns time and time again: think Tracy Chapman in the 90s, Iron and Wine a few years back and some of the ballads of current bands like the Weepies of the Indie folk rock genre.

It must have been what I was going through at the time as a moody self exiled 14 year old in a New York winter hibernation, either loneliness, disconnection or generalized angst about me in the world. But the song spoke the yearning inside: “Help yourself to my new clothes. Borrow some of my daydreams too…You can call me hung up but when I call you, don’t hang up the phone…Come visit me, inspired insanity.”

Perhaps I felt taken for granted. Or simply taken. My mind did not register quickly enough all the outside motivations, what strangers or acquaintances wanted of me, and so I created misunderstanding. My intuition absorbed into analytical musings always. Books not people amused me, made me feel lucky, desired, understood…made me feel. People were not my strong suit. But 14 year olds generally don’t do people well.

I only knew I craved attention for what I could master, and I excelled at school. I had cracked the code of teachers and books long before, so I kept my eye on the coveted ‘A,’ did what I had to while enjoying some of it along the way. My ‘A’s’ were the teacher nods that validated me.

So at mid-year, when I read her praise, replete with exclamation points, next to the journal entry containing the entire neatly penned Snow song, I silently shrieked, panicked with the horror of the mistake.

“She thought I wrote this?! Oh no!!”

Instant shame, embarrassment, fear and flattery combined to redden my face, flushing heat all the way down to my ankles.

It had been painful enough to deliver my thoughts and poems to her, a stranger reading my creations, my penned pretties, not just the usual rote academic scribblings, but I consoled myself in safety of the teacher-student relationship. I trusted she would never ask me to bare my soul only to betray me by reading my work to the class. She may have even given such assurance in assigning it.

Not like in 9th grade when Mr. Rowe announced to the class that the creative project would be performed or read to the class. Back then, I combined my two loves, writing and music, and somehow mustered the courage to play a recording of a song I wrote and performed on the guitar. The ballad told the story of an assigned text, A Single Pebble, the Yangtze River Chinese gold miner who braved the forces of society and the river and lost (unless you count the immortalization by John Hersey). The image of my reserved former self does not comport with that project choice, but the certainty of the recollection cannot be denied. I can still sing some of the song.

But the song in 9th grade spelled pure victory in an earned ‘A’ for work performed, finished and collected. If memory serves, mention of using the song to accompany the reading for future classes echoes proudly (whether real or imagined) in my mind’s ears.

Not so this mistaken praise. Though mortified, my ego beamed with the attributed talent of writing such a song, which translated into the belief in me as a poet–or a songwriter, at the very least. I could not help but conclude that the other poems in the journal led her to believe so. Otherwise, how could she not detect the difference in style, the clear polished finish of the one song compared to the other driblets of word leakage (the estimated worth of my creative endeavors)?

So, though I feared she would discover the song some day and judge me a fraud–burned with the humiliation of that thought–I did round back to the idea that she presumed; I did not misrepresent. I assumed she would figure it all out, while simultaneously dreading she would not. I had little faith in human capability or not enough experience to realize that she most probably would not even remember the whole incident. She, a 22 year old, teaching her first job probably, had more to do and think about than one song in one journal of her dozens of students in several classes.

However, the scene often played out in my mind of her buying the album and hearing the song, so familiar in some way, and not knowing why. Or, the flash of recognition coupled with memory of first reading the song would conjure up my image before her eyes: the quiet student who dressed in coveralls, flannel shirts and construction boots (the original Doc Martens) and wrote poetry. Would she color that image with respect for my musical tastes or disappointment in the assumed attempted fraud perpetrated on her–even if the assignment was ungraded?

It doesn’t matter. I know. The minuscule moment magnified in my mind from teen hood speaks louder to the undigested lesson, the latent effect of that experience. Somehow I registered (or chose to) that someone recognized me as capable of producing publishable work, something as good as Phoebe Snow lyrics (which in hindsight proves less poetry than song, raw and unpolished; I mean her lyrics without the voice through them fell short of spectacular). The 14 year old me sensed the twinge of an inkling of a promise: perhaps I too could create something worthwhile, a source of another’s delight or ease of sorrow.

If only I could withstand the collective gaze of others.

Eventually, I did adapt to scrutiny. Inspired by past small successes and fleeting acts of bravery, I pushed myself through the paralysis of stage fright, figuratively for me but very real for Phoebe Snow (and Joe Cocker), and performed, wrote and occasionally sang for my living and others’ entertainment.

Real inspired insanity–sometimes frenetically and other times serenely–produces beauty, wisdom, advice or instruction. Its seeds can be found in frozen undetected time tucked in between the blinks that flutter chaos and creativity, and sway a life to the left or right. Perhaps the heat of a blush imprinted a dormant notion that unlocked itself in time, just at the right time, when I began to write–without fear.

 

image credit:  http://wewantedtobewriters.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Chron-Higher-Ed.jpg

Bass Clef of a Mistress

  
credit: http://fc07.deviantart.net/fs41/i/2009/055/e/6/___Bass_Clef____by_cheinrich1981.jpg

A parade courses through my days,
one of twitters chirped from devices and trees.

An avuncular path leading back to my ears
sounds the thrumming pump of plasma drums.

I can hear my blood when the music starts,
like the rhythmic stump of dog tail in mid-scratch.

Silence moves me too in humming refrigerators,
ticking clocks, and buzzing transformers above.

Door knocks muted wood of knuckles shy
jar my attention in irritated curiosity and dread.

Like the broken peace pierced shrilly,
a dog barks inside echoing plaster and tile.

Water pour-sliding down pipes in gushes
forced like fingers hard-pressed on a fingerboard.

I hear the memory thrust of my grandfather,
his fingers crushing mine high atop the cello’s face.

“No, like dees, you put like dees, here!!”
A stranger loved in osmotic care for a family’s music.

Wind cries rarely as do the clouds in this desert,
so the trills of trickling rain sing sweetly suckling tears.

Muffled voices beyond closed doors wordlessly
play mornings mostly before the whispers of evening.

When the clanging of aluminum, teflon and iron
ring the truth fed in tones nourished by hand, we sing.

Our collective voices intone in the eyes of intention,
a shrugging will, and love-notes tucked in school lunch sacks.  

And when the confetti clears, the bass drum moves on,
the choir of antiquity will accompany me, soloist, alto, sotto voce. 

 

 

The Last Time I Will See Joni

 

 

Last night I dined with a Joni fan, someone with whom I found common ground initially on that fact alone, tossing her words at the appropriate emotion or situation, as if to say, “You know what I mean?” Oddly enough, we did not talk about Joni, though she was there, framing our discussion, our gestures and postures on love, men and the world. We are both children weaned on her music and so look through her lenses, her lyrics and voice, in daily life.

Joni has been on my mind lately for the same reason as Linda Grant has written about her in It’s not always easy to be a Joni Mitchell fan, but her illness devastates me in the Guardian. Joni is ill, has been for a while, and it looks as if life’s accumulations have conspired to bury her soon, if not from this latest episode of falling unconscious, then perhaps not long after. She is 72, a dedicated smoker, and embittered by all accounts. 
 
But it is not the person but the persona of Joni Mitchell that I have adored all my life. She captured the spirit of my youth and has been my creative mother, in some ways, a decade older and wiser, tethering me along on her words and experiences that resonate with and color my own. She is always first, and my footsteps follow in the safety and security of her words and melodies to accompany my heart breaks, my pride and creative yearning.
 
I agree with Grant. When she goes, her music will survive, but something, the undergirding of a culture, a huge part of its iconography, will be lost and will be suffered by some of her daughters, ones like me whose history of love has always been bathed in her coursing stream of heart songs, like the loss of a limb.
 
She has called herself “a scientist of love”; how to love is what she’s trying to get to the bottom of. Like Jean Rhys, she has drawn the anatomy of a woman’s heart, the men we fall for, the loneliness, the fatal choices. The accretion of age, the disappointments of living, are part of the journey we’ve all been on with her, so this life-long fandom can’t have a happy ending. Or even a happy middle. Pity the poor children with an indelible online record of the day they wept when they heard Zayn Malik was leaving One Direction. Perhaps the lifelong experience of being a fan, an admirer, an acolyte or a student of an artist will turn out to have been a fluke, a small window of privilege, and from now on careers will burn up in a year or two, the experience fleeting for the adorer and the adored alike. I don’t think she knows how much she’s venerated. Or maybe she knows and it doesn’t matter. It fulfils nothing. It makes no difference. She’s as alone with her music as we are.
 
 Critical acclaim and personality contest winners have never been criteria for my musical tastes, so I will die a Joni fan no matter the latest news of her quirks and habit–or her death. Here’s to you, Joni, and wishing you good health in as long a life as you permit.
 
Last Time I Saw Richard

by Joni Mitchell

The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in ’68
And he told me all romantics meet the same fate someday
Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café
You laugh he said you think you’re immune
Go look at your eyes they’re full of moon
You like roses and kisses and pretty men to tell you
All those pretty lies pretty lies
When you gonna realize they’re only pretty lies
Only pretty lies just pretty lies

He put a quarter in the Wurlitzer and he pushed
Three buttons and the thing began to whirr
And a bar maid came by in fishnet stockings and a bow tie
And she said “Drink up now it’s getting’ on time to close”
“Richard, you haven’t really changed” I said
It’s just that now you’re romanticizing some pain that’s in your head
You got tombs in your eyes but the songs you punched are dreaming
Listen, they sing of love so sweet, love so sweet
When you gonna get yourself back on your feet?
Oh and love can be so sweet Love so sweet

Richard got married to a figure skater
And he bought her a dishwasher and a coffee percolator
And he drinks at home now most nights with the TV on
And all the house lights left up bright
I’m gonna blow this damn candle out
I don’t want nobody comin’ over to my table
I got nothing to talk to anybody about
All good dreamers pass this way some day
Hidin’ behind bottles in dark cafes dark cafes
Only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings and fly away
Only a phase these dark café days

© 1970; Joni Mitchell

 

Music is a Demonic Mistress in Whiplash

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Credit: paleothea.com

My grandfather died when I was ten. I don’t remember much of him other than what others have spoken of him, that he was a piano tuner and a musician that taught and cajoled all of his 7 sons (not his one daughter) to play an instrument, two of whom were later professionals. I was told he was a gentle and kind man, soft spoken in juxtaposition to his louder more vociferous “witchy” wife, as characterized by an oft chastised daughter in law, my mother. The one lasting memory I have of him, Julius, Isidore prior to immigrating from Russia as his wife’s brother, is a cello lesson he gave me one summer afternoon of a rare visit to our Long Island home.

Though he and my grandmother lived merely a half hour’s distance away, we traveled to their Farmingdale home most visits. My father was the last of the seven boys, so his parents were older grandparents vis a vis my family and thus we traveled to them. On this one visit to our home, my grandfather, as ever interested in family musical progress (all four siblings and I played an instrument), decided to see for himself and sat me down for a listen. I remember his stern, disapproving look as I muddled my way through a piece I was learning for the school orchestra, probably some Muller-Rush simple exercise piece disguised as a song. Those were the days of music lessons and orchestras in elementary school, when instruments were offered in third grade at which time I was appointed the cello due to my long fingers despite my request to play violin. I had only been playing for a couple of years then and had not started the private lessons that I would have the following year, despite my family’s limited budget.

He was aggressive. He shook his head in decided disapproval, got up from his seat and pushed my fingers all about the neck of the cello, pressing down on the forefinger up high and stretching the ring finger down low and absolutely smashing my pinky. Then he jerked my bow arm from the elbow up to place it properly from his perspective, which strained my neck and torqued my hand whose fingers were being smashed into the neck of the now source of torture, formerly my cello, as used by this draconian musician. He instructed me in something barely conceivable as English worsened by his frustration, “Do dees, now dees, like dees!” He muttered in Russian probably.

Since I was ten and was not well versed in Russian, Hebrew, Latvian, Polish, German or other languages my grandparents spoke, hell I was barely fluent in English at 10, I had always felt distant from my grandparents who were adoring enough, calling me pet names like Pamaluchkala and ochichonya (dark eyes), and teasing me with the yiddish equivalent of ugly girl and then smiling and calling me the opposite. They made me nervous, however. I didn’t understand them. That cello lesson did not help matters. I was nervous about playing in front of anyone let alone an exacting musician who spoke little English. If I had any talent or education in the instrument, none of it was going to show under those conditions.

Recalling that experience still elicits a frown to my face, sadly the only recollection of my grandfather, who was a receding character compared to the imposing figure that was my grandmother in stature and voice. That memory still conflicts with the one or two video preservations of some 35 mm film of him, my grandmother and extended family at their house. He always looked gentle, smiling, and composed. Was it the music that brought out the demon in him, the child abuser that plowed over the slightest sensibilities of a child not taking into account the damage he may have done to that child’s love for and thereby development in the instrument?

That question of the madness in the musician besieged me, awakening my grandfather memory and provoked a long look at my musical endeavors, after seeing the movie Whiplash recently. The movie in pinpoint precision well casted acting and unlikely thriller momentum (my glutes hurt afterward) presents the outermost limits of the innermost determinants of personal achievement through mastery of a musical instrument, here the drums: monomaniacal focus of the musician, the demented exactitude and sadism of the teacher torturously beating greatness out of his students, and the Odyssean journey of the student musician into Hades to learn the truth: Am I capable of greatness?

The movie was truly well done, especially the nuanced acting of Miles Teller, the aspiring Buddy Rich, and J.K. Simmons, the complex, somewhat deranged professor. So much of the movie occurred in their faces, that subtle twitch, stare or glint. As is often the case after seeing a movie of such caliber that it lingers in my mental limbs the next day, I wanted to read more about the movie, reviews and such.

Serendipitously, I came across this quote by renowned American conductor Leonard Slatkin on my morning travels through the net: “Ultimately, music is a possessive mistress.” I read this and immediately thought about the scene (SPOILER ALERT!) in which Teller brilliantly and brutally spells out to his girlfriend in a great detailed cause and effect chain of prognostications why he cannot maintain a relationship, which, without spoiling too much, amounts to the essence of Slatkin’s quote. There just isn’t much time for other passions when one consumes so absolutely, burns so powerfully inside that all thought and action is that passion or tied to it in some way. All else is peripheral. One eats to keep the engine able to execute for the sake of the art.

Whether my grandfather broke my art or I just wasn’t good or passionate enough, I gave up playing the cello seriously by my junior year in high school, the year I delved deeper into the world eschewed by obsessively driven musicians, artists, actors, and anyone with the monomania to pursue greatness: a social life. Now I pick up the cello or the guitar, which I later tinkered with, when the mood strikes me. I like it that way. The small suffering of frustration and yearning for skillful music making, that lifelong itch, falls far short, even in amassed decades, of the inconceivable agony in attaining greatness: the innumerable hours, indomitable doubt and suffocating insecurity for a payoff that may turn out to be no more than a less than stellar roster of achievements.

Sounds a lot like the trials and tribulations of the writer, who must likewise be owned by a “possessive mistress” if she wants to be the next something to read on a list somewhere. Or be content to dabble to her heart’s compromised content. The only writing whisperers of the J.K. Simmons kind that writers withstand are their own tormenting demons. They have to find their own motivation for distinction in a sado-masochism of their own making.

On This Winter Solstice Morning

On this Winter Solstice morning, wishing you and yours powerful peace in the short sunlight hours and a good, long winter’s night sleep.

There’s a Certain Slant of Light – Emily Dickinson

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons —
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes —

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us —
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are —

None may teach it — Any —
’Tis the Seal Despair —
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air —

When it comes, the Landscape listens —
Shadows — hold their breath —
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death —

Guest Post by L.C. Miller: “Mistress to the Show”

The concept of “Mistress” is interesting to me because even though I’m a faithfully married woman, I am one. It’s not that my relationship with my husband is unsatisfying. It’s not that we’ve lost interest in each other or that the intimacy between us has tarnished over the last 16 years. I haven’t even fallen into the arms of another as a means of escape to a place where I feel desirable, sexy… wanted.

Nevertheless, when I chose to be with my husband, I don’t think I fully realized that I wouldn’t just be taking on the role of partner, wife, mother, or caretaker, but the primary role I would play when I said ‘I do’ was that of mistress.

Everybody knows the famous expression, ‘the show must go on’. No matter what happens, the show will take priority. The people need their entertainment. You will find even movie theaters are open 365 days a year. I am mistress to the show.

Before I met Mike, I too worked in entertainment. I played keyboards in a band but I was no musician. I sang backup but I was no singer. I pushed paper at various record labels and management companies, which is how I met my husband when he was carrying on his love affair with the show. A road guy for the likes of Metallica and Queensryche, he was a metal head now in charge of the latest and greatest grunge band my company discovered during the high surf of the Seattle sound. And even though they couldn’t survive the first tour of the show, Mike and I bonded by speaking over the telephone every day while he was on the road. We laughed and joked and I enjoyed flirting with him during innocent business conversations; and he was drawn to me the same way a man who’s spoken for is lured by the mere dulcet tones of a woman’s voice. He enjoyed escaping into something new but he was obviously in a committed relationship with the show.

Years later, after wanting more from my personal connection with her, I thought perhaps if I moved from Los Angeles to New York, we could take it to the next level and get closer than we ever had. My friend Andrea was relating a funny story how our friend Mike had gotten off the rock tour and was now the sound designer for this show all about tango now on Broadway. I couldn’t help but laugh, imagining him being in such a long committed relationship with a long haired, head banging wife to something much more seductive, classic, lusty. Boy, did his relationship with the show change! I decided to call him and ask if it was okay to stay with him while I tried to relocate, setting up interviews to continue pushing paper for ‘my girl’. Unfortunately, I was just pursuing the same bitch on a different coast.

Mike was all alone in New York, only having to deal with his wife three hours a day, with matinees Wednesday afternoons and weekends. I was attracted to him, but I tried to tell myself he was already committed. He invited me to meet his wife, and something totally unexpected happened. I fell in love with her too.

I no longer cared about my own wife. All she ever did was cross T’s and dot I’s in the name of pop music. She wasn’t very interesting. But this lady my husband was with; she was a knock out. I could see during the show that Mike acted just like a complacent husband with her. I gasped at her every touch, her dress and her shoes as she ran them up and down the back of that handsome dancer’s leg, beckoning me to watch, to follow. I was mesmerized by the show and so was every other ticket holder. But Mike was already more than comfortable with her because when two ladies came up after the curtain dropped and commented how one dancer whipped her hair around so much, his response was, “That’s so you won’t notice how fat she is.”

I didn’t care. It was love at first sight.

I started sleeping with Mike and going to the show every night. Just to watch. He would ask me, “Don’t you ever get tired of seeing this over and over again?” And my answer was always, “Hell no!”

I think this is when Mike fell in love with me; because I loved the show… maybe more than he did… and it seemed my passion for her renewed his interest in their marriage. He took it as a sign that I could handle his commitment and be okay waiting in the side wings until their time together was over. Clearly I was very happy being the voyeur to their romance and I did love every minute of it.

We were married right after the show left Broadway and started a world tour. We spent more than a year in this blissful triangle, experiencing the world, life and love together. And like any mistress, I relished our private time and began to resent the demands of his wife more and more. Here he seemed interested in me and bored with her, but he’d never leave her. He looked at me with love and desire and her with disinterest. Sometimes I thought, “She could do better. She should be with someone who’s really in love with her.” But she doesn’t want anyone else either.

While we were on tour, my mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer and needed me to come back to Southern California to take care of her. I wanted my husband to come with me, but I had to accept he was already married and no matter what happened, the curtain would always rise and fall on his first wife first.

I buried my mother alone, without either love by my side. I was able to share my grief with my husband over the telephone during a layover at Heathrow Airport on his way from Portugal to South Korea. He was very sorry but he and his wife couldn’t chat. After all, she must go on, right?

Two years later, my husband’s marriage would change and for a while they would stay together at the House of Blues in Anaheim so I could be near family to have Mike’s baby. I still wore a ring on my finger, but while I went back to work in a law office, my husband split his time trading child care responsibilities with me and then would run off to be with her all night, having fun, dancing to Etta James and bringing me home bootleg recordings of their torrid evening together.

For years we still went wherever Mike’s first wife took us, but we finally settled down in Seattle to raise our child all together; Mike, me, our son and the show. Again, Mike and I became lovers who passed in the night. I would fall asleep and he would wake me. He would do and say all the right things, sending me back to a blissful sleep, only to wake again to an empty bed. Was it all a dream? Whatever it was, I knew what he was doing. He was dressing her up in something new. My husband was off creating his love into something special for all to see, leaving me to raise our boy on my own.

She beckoned. She demanded. She must go on.

I would start to hate her and tell Mike I’ve had enough. I wanted to threaten him by demanding he choose between us, but I was too afraid of his choice. And at my breaking point, he would bring me to see her in her new outfit, dressed up in Hairspray, Young Frankenstein, Shrek, Memphis, Aladdin… the list goes on. Every time I’d show up resentful, the show would seductively lift her curtain, share her magic and leave me swooning. Can you deny a relationship that has thousands of people moved to a standing ovation night after night? How can I not stand and clap too? I love her every time and it makes me look at Mike and admire his commitment. Sure he looks tired and maybe he might look bored, but the love he has for what he does shows in every performance. I can’t break them up.

I surrender.

I know my husband loves me and our son, but he is still fully committed to his first wife. She puts a roof over our heads. She makes our son and I laugh, cry and experience wonder while Mike merely looks like a dutiful husband, holding his wife’s purse and twisting her knobs in the back of the room, so everyone can hear how beautiful or funny or sad she is. Whether she’s Beauty and the Beast, Miss Saigon or the Phantom of the Opera, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter what she puts on, there I am, fully in love with her from the twenty second row.

As long as I’m married, I’m mistress to the show.

Today in Madonna History: October 2, 1992

Funny how things change with a little time seasoning. I did not appreciate Madonna when I first heard her, probably the song “Holiday,” finding her music too bubble gum and her vamp style too demeaning to women with her kitten sexo-fascist look and a less than subtle attempt to capitalize on sex. It was 1983, and I was still into Joni Mitchell and the Rolling Stones, suffering through Michael Jackson’s Thriller, admittedly a great album, though far too pop for me, rock-alternative elitist in my own mind and leftover feminist hippy. My heyday was in the 70s.

Like many amateur critics of the time, I thought the 80s were bereft of music with soul–all that techno machinery replacing actual musicians and musicianship swapped for computers. It wasn’t until her song “Live to Tell” from the movie At Close Range that I stopped to listen to her, her voice, her passion, her captivating eeriness. The movie was a tough movie, and I thought the song was rendered well against the backdrop of the grim and complex themes only one of which was rape. I did not see the movie–only read about it and opted out–but felt it in her song. I thought that was a telling tribute to her talent as a singer/songwriter (though a collaborative effort).

After that, I listened to her music through the years with a more open mind and attuned ear about both music and sex. Some songs I liked and some I did not. When I truly began to appreciate her was when I saw the imitators–ostensible innovators to the uninitiated–follow along on her coattails, thriving off the capital of her inroads into the hip and campy hypno-sex as music scene, only one of whom I consider the most famous and imitative, Lady GaGa. Imitation is not necessarily the litmus test of greatness but combined with prolific productivity and time, there is something there that will turn Madonna (yes, some would argue already is) into the icon she deserves to be, even in my mind. Maybe that something is maturity, mostly mine.

Today In Madonna History

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On October 2 1992, Madonna’s “Erotica” video premiered on MTV.

The “Erotica” video was directed by fashion photographer Fabien Baron, and featured a masked Madonna in a dominatrix costume. It also featured celebrities such as Naomi Campbell, Isabella Rossellini and Big Daddy Kane. The video was highly controversial, being aired by MTV a total of three times, before becoming Madonna’s second video to be banned, after “Justify My Love” in 1990.  

MTV spokeswoman Linda Alexander said, “The themes of the video are clearly aimed at a more adult audience. It is not appropriate for a general viewing audience”.

The footage of Madonna lip-synching the song in her S&M dominatrix costume was filmed on August 22, 1992 at The Kitchen in New York City, while the rest of the footage for the video was shot during the photo sessions for Madonna’s “Sex” book.  

In order to imitate the look of old home-made movies, the entire video…

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