22 08 2009

kyAfter a hard week of soundtrack work in Nashville for Shop Girl, her swelling belly brought about a rabid desire for nesting.  Homeward bound – nothing was going to stop my Fast for a minute longer than a necessary pee and some peanut butter crackers for sustenance.  Early morning fog softened the vistas through Tennessee and Kentucky taking me to places long forgotten but dreamy in the recesses of my memory.

Vacations for Billy were generally spent close to home doing the things to keep the house in repair…painting inside and out.  Finances never allowed those fantasy vacays to Disney.  But somewhere along the line, I don’t suppose I was more than 7 or 8 (sibling memories could help here), we headed South.

One of our stops was at the famous stables of the Kentucky Downs racetrack.  I was thoroughly entrenched in that love-of-horse phase that so many pigtailed girls go through and I still remember the marvel of the sleek chestnut bodies and silky black manes towering over me.  The wonder of wonder was being allowed to stop in the souvenir shop and three items were purchased specifically for me.  Somehow I recall some whining from the bro/sis combo to the tune of, “She’s a spoiled brat!” and “Who cares about dumb horses anyway! I just want to get home!”… if I was about a 3rd grader – that made them tweens and what is worse than being stuck in the backseat of a family car with no air conditioning, dvd player, radio or space for that matter.  This was sometime before 1965 or so, people!

mmthBut the pièce de résistance of that trip was a tour of the Mammoth Cave.  I am not even sure if that was actually our final destination or just another stop along the way.  Regardless, it marked me for life.  Fear gripped me as we began the steep descent into the bowels of the earth.  Shivers worked up my spine not just from the change of temperature but from the mere fact that I was being held captive by tons of limestone.

Eyes wide open, peering down crevices that could swallow me whole – my heart pounding so loudly in my chest it buzzed in my ears…once all senses adjusted, it became the most spectacularly magical space.  Colored lights highlighted the stalactites and stalagmites.  Underground rivers flowed silently by into inky black. Musty, dank air hung thick.

When Best Boy and Shop Girl were about that same age we read George MacDonald’s children’s fantasy novel  The Princess and the Goblin and its sequel The Princess and Curdie out loud around the dinner table.  MacDonald launches into his ideas of mountains and caves within the first pages of the second book:

A mountain is a strange and awful thing.  In old times, without knowing so much of their strangeness and awfulness as we do, people were yet more afraid of mountains.  But then somehow they had not come to see how beautiful they are as well as awful, and they hated them – and what people hate they must fear.  Now that we have learned to look at them with admiration, perhaps we do not feel quite awe enough to them.  To me they are beautiful terrors.

He continues a few paragraphs later,

All this outside the mountain!  But the inside, who shall tell what lies there!  Caves of awfullest solitude, their walls miles thick, sparkling with ores of gold or silver, copper or iron, tin or mercury, studded perhaps with precious stones – perhaps a brook, with eyeless fish in it, running, running ceaselessly, cold and babbling, through banks crusted with carbuncles and golden topazes, or over a gravel of which some of the stones arc rubies and emeralds, perhaps diamonds and sapphires – who can tell? – and whoever can’t tell is free to think – all waiting to flash, waiting for millions of ages – ever since the earth flew off from the sun, a great blot of fire, and began to cool.

Not too many months later, we found ourselves on a sweltering day under a blistering Washington D.C. sun, queuing up at the Smithsonian with Shop Girl and Best Boy in a full melt down.  Once inside we mapped out our visit including my one MUST SEE.

We were ushered into a room where all the lights were turned off and told to stand in the center and wait.  Suddenly, the recessed display cases set deep into the walls like mini caverns were set ablaze and sparkled with the most gorgeous display of gems in every color of the rainbow – exposed from where they had been hidden miles below the earth’s surface for centuries.  Suddenly the deep underworld of Curdie, the miner’s son, was brilliantly brought to reality.

Caves.  Me.  Facing fear.  Getting choked by the demons of claustrophobia or delighting in spelunking to discover precious veins buried deep within?  That is where my mind has taken me in the last few days.  Sparked by a conversation on the porch with Shop Girl and Mimi about facing our greatest fears and finding buried deep within ourselves those treasures – valuable resources – veins of gold and silver that steel our souls and weave through us – belying the hard, gray exterior that can seem cold to the touch.  Who are we really – deep in the core?

During my treks back and forth to Indiana over the weekends of the last few years, I had spent a good deal of time fearing the death of my father.  How was I going to face that?  What would it look like?  Feel like?  I planned the funeral in my head.  I talked through eulogies.  I wrote in notebooks while I drove.  What would his face look like when the real Billy was headed through the ceiling of the room that confined his physical body?  How would the Mrs. survive?

We have crawled through some dark twisty passageways this year.  The Mrs.’ voice echos off the walls.  But the thrill of every caver’s life is finding yet another tunnel, another underground waterway, another secret grotto – slogging through the mud and muck to chart new passages. These twelve months have been that journey for me.  Sometimes coming out into a wide space – a chamber – where standing upright I blindly pat the perimeters of the hard space. Other days I find myself crawling on my belly – squeezing through impossibly tight spaces.

So here’s to facing fears and finding the gemstones hidden deep within.  New adventures, new discoveries, new pains, new joys await. It takes hours of tumbling in the grit for the shine of those stones to come to light. Keeping my headlamp burning bright and forging ahead – daring fear to block my way.

After weeks of spelunking in Billy’s basement with all its similarities to the Mammoth Cave, I feel like yesterday my eyes had become so adjusted to the filtered gray light that I finally looked up and could almost see three of the four walls.  I have dug deep this year – quite literally – and as each layer is uncovered, I am in awe of the precious gems I keep unearthing.  Do you still have all your marbles?  I sure don’t.

Just in case you are lying around today with nothing better to do and you’ve never read MacDonald’s books you can read them here and here for free on line.  No need to even get off the couch.  Thank you Google.


half notes and quarter rests

4 08 2009


As Shop Girl and I stood on the back deck before leaving the wild North, our neighbor stopped by to inspect the new fence that was put up in honor of my birthday (a whole blog post dedicated to that story to follow soon).  He knew that we were soon to embark on our road trip to Nashvegas and he and the wife had been discussing the nature of our artsy fartsy children and asked where the musical DNA came from that is Shop Girl’s forte.

Anyone who has known us for longer than 10 minutes knows the answer to that query – the Dr. of course.  As I recall the blurry facts of my childhood, I believe I was sentenced to three years of solitary confinement seated before the ivories.  Neither of my parents played the piano but Charlie (my maternal grandfather) could play a pretty mean honky tonk – after which he’d ask forgiveness of the heavens above for letting himself get so carried away with worldly delights.  Those occasions were few and far between but as I recall he was the only other person beside the sibling trio that would ever sit at the keyboard.

Billy did appreciate good music and the Mrs. could carry a tune enough to be part of the church choir for years.  Somewhere in there,  it was motivation enough for them to prioritize their meager funds enough to spring for years of lessons for the three of us. And by junior high, we were all bi-instrumental – so there were cases lugged back and forth on the school bus, ham dinner fundraisers to attend, uniforms to purchase, parades to march in and concerts to tape on portable cassette records with internal mics.  Just months ago I gifted one of these stellar Christmas concerts to my oldest friend.   She was a real musician – she played the bassoon.

I wonder if I could read music if someone threatened my life with a metronome stuck in my back.  Somewhere in the dark recesses of whatever gray matter is left, that information is stored. Within the first hours of our trip I got to thinking about how music becomes more than the notes on a one dimensional page.  It becomes something that we hang lots of memories on.  All I have to do is punch the button for the 70’s station on my satellite radio in the car to be transported to another dimension as each song evokes the specific soundtrack of my life.

I know enough about music to understand that it isn’t just the notes on the page – it’s the tempo, the rhythm, the lyrics, the instrumental solos – the mood.  During the recording of Shop Girl’s second CD her producer suggested changing up the tempo of a song and it magically became something totally different than how it had all started.  On our most recent trek to LA someone who makes huge chunks of change writing pop songs that you’d all recognize mused outloud that he wished he could bring more space into his songs like hers have. He wanted her to teach him how she makes “the quiet” work in her songs – not filling up every bar with words – letting the music speak for itself and to each individual listener.  Sorry, it won’t play in Peoria.  Her’s is a different kind of music all together.

Tricky business this of song writing.  It’s not just top lining and catchy hooks. It’s about the rests and silence between the notes. Gaps on a page that speak.  I marvel at her craft.  I wonder what it is like to hear things that no one else does.  To create like this. To hear a song and know it isn’t fully fleshed out yet.

And here is where this came full circle for me again.  These trips aren’t just about making music.  There is always more to the timing of the bigger score that I become aware of.  This trip was particularly tricky to pull off with re-scheduling and shifting responsibilities.  But I knew I had to be here.  I knew we had to do this THIS week and had no idea WHY.

Its the conversations had with fellow musicians, producers, sound engineers – all friends – that happen between creating music that is the real beauty behind it all.  The timing – the spaces – the rests – the sustained notes that fade – the tempo.  We had no idea how important it would be to be here right now.