Timing is Everything in Music

Last Sunday, after a lovely ladies weekend, I met my friend Tricia at an Open Mike event to sing together. Now, we have performed together before, but only once this year, and of course had not rehearsed anything. We got very lucky.

It reminded me a time in the late 1970’s when I came home one evening and my sister introduced me to her new friend Fred Mandel. He said “Your sister tells me you play the piano – why don’t you play something?” Now my sister was totally setting me up (as usual). My piano skills at the time were BOTH parts of Heart & Soul. “No” I said to the very young looking guest “You first.”

Well I didn’t know it, but at that time, Fred Mandel was playing with Domenic Troiano and was about to tour for four years with Alice Cooper. Oh yeah, he also went on to play live and record with Queen, Supertramp, Pink Floyd and little gigs like LIVE AID with Sir Elton John. No biggie.

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Fred sat at my parent’s little apartment size piano and played the absolute crap out of it. Amazeballs. After about an hour of stunning rock and roll, my Mom came out to say goodnight and thank him for playing. He made as if to stop, and she beseeched him to continue, (“I didn’t even know that piano could SOUND like that “) He instantly switched to Cole Porter and gentle swing for the rest of the evening. I’m glad he went first.

It was a less dramatic event on Sunday. Tricia and I got up and sang a song. They liked us and asked us to sing another which we did. They wanted more and we said no and that is always the best way. Then the next group got up. Four black guys – they sounded like 3-1/2 guys from Santana. You know when a band kicks in full throttle, completely in sync, from the very first note? It was like that. I bet they rehearsed.


My first fan letter.

In November, 1978 my sister called and invited me to go to a concert with her. This was quite remarkable as she didn’t like me very much. She said it was someone I “had to see”. As an older sister, she felt responsible for my musical education. I had never heard of him. It was Bruce Springsteen.

Well this was in the Concert Bowl at Maple Leaf Gardens – Bruce left the stage, came through the floor crowd and sang several times right beside our seats in the stands. It was a stunning,  4+ hour show and I left sweaty and completely satisfied. That was more than 37 years ago and I have since seen Bruce many times. Maybe 17? I stopped counting. Rochester in 1978. Chicago in 1999.



Everyone knows that on a scale of 1 – 10 a Springsteen show is a clear 17. Every one a remarkable experience.  And each is different. When I took my husband to see Bruce at the CNE in the late 80’s, the sky was threatening rain. Bruce opened up with “Who’ll Stop The Rain”. It worked.

When my sons were about 7 and 9 I took them to see Bruce. This was the 90’s and I really wanted them to see what it was like when a human being wrote every word, and every note, and then had other humans all play it together. It’s magic and at that time it was very rare.  It still is.

It was different then, when you couldn’t share things with the ease that you can today.  I remember driving down Avenue Road quite late one evening in 1980, and Q107 had a sneak pre-release preview of one song from Bruce’s new album “The River”.  There were no cell phones – I couldn’t share the moment with anyone.  They played “Drive All Night” and I was so overcome I pulled over to the side of the road.  Bruce is playing the entire album on Tuesday.  I’m not sure I’ll be able to take it when he sings that song.

I love  Bruce Springsteen.  He has never asked me for anything in all these years except to pay attention politically and to bring food for my local food bank to every show.  Like thousands of others, I submitted a response to the “3 Words about Bruce Springsteen” for the remarkable documentary SPRINGSTEEN AND I. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVQUeCi9V0s )  I don’t remember what my three words were – I am guessing one was “Authentic”.  Whatever.  I end up saying the same three words that most of the fans say, and that I still say today:





The Gift

Dear Lindy~ I thought of your Mom yesterday. A song came on the radio.

You know that many years ago, she was a business mentor to me. I was in my early 20’s and she was the senior financial person in the agency where I worked. But more than that, she was the senior woman in the organization. She had clout. She made things happen.

I was lucky that she liked me. She was a huge help to me. We went together one evening to an Agency party on the Centre Island. Walking from the Ferry I started to hum a Springsteen song. That was the first time your Mom heard me sing. She made me start at the beginning. And sing louder. I was really embarrassed and didn’t want to. She was a hard person to say “no” too. I bet you’ve heard that before! Sort of a fist in a velvet glove. I sang. It didn’t sound half bad.

She invited me to  come to your house in the Beach. Your Dad would play the guitar and I would sing. The song that I heard on the radio yesterday that reminded me of her was “Daniel” by Elton John. That was the first song that I ever sang with him playing the guitar. It was scary and thrilling. microphone_on_stage_a3d71 After that, she would make me sing all the time. Even after we had both moved on to other jobs, she would call me from work and get me to sing to her. More than once, it was on the speaker phone and she had others there. She loved opera and there was a part of an opera that I had stuck in my head. I called her and sang it to her (in the middle of a meeting!) and she was able to identify it. So cool.

It was many years later that I got a call from Inez that your Mom was sick. Real sick. She was in Sunnybrook and had asked for me to come down and sing some Springsteen to her. Inez and I met up the next day and we visited your Mom. By then, she was hardly conscious. I sat by her bed and sang. I came back down 3 or 4 more times to sing to her. Who knows if she was able to hear me by then. Maybe if she couldn’t hear the words she could feel the feelings behind them. At first I was so shy to sing, but each time I became braver. The nurses would step in, and people visiting, to listen and I wouldn’t stop.

The last time I came down, I was walking down the hall towards her room and your Dad was being wheeled by on a stretcher. He was screaming. As he passed me, he grabbed my hand and screamed at me; ‘Leslie! Stay with Bonnie. Please! Stay with Bonnie!”. He was panic struck. I said I would, and walked into your Mom’s room. Your Aunt Sue was with your Mom and it took me a moment to realize that she was gone.

After I said goodbye to her, I went and found your Dad downstairs where they were trying to calm him down. No matter how clear it had been that she wasn’t going to make it, the shock of her actual death was almost too much for him to bear. He loved her so.

Your Grandmother asked me to sing at the funeral. I spent hours learning the song that they had chosen – “How Great Thou Art”. The day before the funeral, I woke up with almost total laryngitis. I was so disappointed and felt like I was letting her down. When I called your Grandmother and croaked out that I couldn’t talk (much less sing) she asked if there was anything that she could do to help me. This, on the weekend that she was burying her daughter. Such kindness.

My voice came back after several days and I began to sing more often. I had sung as a child, in a school choir that actually made a Christmas album, and with the women in my family around the piano. We could all sing. We sang in the car for hours on long road trips. Somehow, when I got to high school my voice was silenced. It wasn’t that I was shy – on the contrary I was loud and a smart ass. Yet the idea of singing in front of people, either in the choir, in the musicals or even in casual settings seemed impossible. Years later, your Mom unlocked that part of me.

Now I sing every day. I take music lessons with a wonderful teacher to learn different harmonies and play a new instrument. I have sung at many weddings, and at many funerals. My own choir has done more than 100 shows at old folks homes, and I walk the halls of the hospital with a couple of other singers whenever we can. IMG_4526 My husband, son and daughter play the guitar and we all sing, as a family and with friends who come over with their guitars or to play the piano. It is truly one of the real joys in my life and your Mom gave me that.

If you can’t play it live, I don’t want to hear it.

The Grammy Awards were on last week.  I didn’t watch.  When I was younger, the Grammy Awards were an event not to be missed. I would gather with several like-minded friends and tune in religiously. With no PVR in those days, we would actually wait until the commercials to get a drink or go to the bathroom. My sister would call me to talk about it, but again, only during the commercial breaks.

I was really a fan. It was primarily a chance to see Springsteen. Not even perform, I was excited just to see him sitting in the audience. (“He’s with his mother! Awww….”). There was also performances that would blow you away – Neil Diamond coming out and joining Streisand in singing “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wo8dCD-4S08 (you know it was a disc jockey who first put that together). Or Tina Turner walking down a loooong stairway in super high heels and a ridiculously short dress for “What’s Love Got to do with It?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEQVSnzQPXc

The Grammy Awards fell into a lull a few years back – I am guessing it started about the time AutoTune made its debut. I have always felt that a musical act doesn’t really make it for me unless the person can perform it live. And unplugged. The totally synthesized  bands and commercially produced cookie cutter boy bands just didn’t break through into timeless classics. Go figure. The best example of this was, of course, Milli Vanilli in 1990. It’s one thing to lip synch. It’s quite another to not even come close to matching the words on the tape – which, by the way, is not even you singing! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILpAJHYwFqQ   they beat Indigo Girls for best new artist. No wonder the audience lost respect and the numbers dwindled lower and lower.

Now, if I watch,  I spend the bulk of the evening asking “Who’s that?” Nothing makes me feel older, or more white, than watching this show. I wasn’t a big rap fan, though I did love their acceptance speeches “and I’d like to thank Jesus for all the success of our big hit
Ho Bring That Thang On Up On Me.”

But something started changing a few years ago. In 2009 When Christina Aguilera did “This is a man’s world” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZltsUE_GhM she stunned the crowd. There is no doubt that this girl can sing. There was a great moment last year when Adele sang Rolling in the Deep – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmdcD22VrAU wow.

And this year, there were some incredible performances again. iTunes, downloads, the so called ‘death’ of the music industry. I don’t think so. And with Justin Timberlake bringing out a new album … well all signs for the future look good. Want to know how you can help? Here’s how:


One Hundred Word Challege – “Murray was just about to serve for the Championship”

Murray was just about to serve for the Championship when he remembered the chant of the crowd over the last few weeks “Timmy! Timmy!”
Like Murray, Tim Henman had been the great hope of the Brits to finally give them the home grown champion they had been denied for seventy-six years.
But the Brits didn’t love Murray. His antics on court and comments off court had never endeared him to his fellow countrymen.
Now, at what could be his moment of glory, he chose to deny them. The Hero of Britain in an instant became again that lousy Scot.

I ain’t afraid of no ghost…

Well that’s not entirely true. I am very scared of many shared incarnations of ghosts – all gleaned from books, television and movies. My entire family enjoys a good scare – if I spill my popcorn by nearly jumping out of my seat I figure I got my money’s worth.

When I was little my sister and our friends spent hours in the basement – dark always – using a Ouija Board and holding seances. We had a foolproof method for taking the horror out of any moment that got too scary. We used all of our conjuring concentration to try and bring back the ghost of Walt Disney. Can you imagine a less threatening spectre?

When I had children of my own I worked hard to make them feel safe and to use a healthy does of reality to help figure things out. For example, I would explain, if there was anything akin to a ghost do you not think that someone by now would have been able to record it’s presence in some manner? We can take pictures of Mars, the inside of cells, and Robert Downey Jr. clean and sober – all things are possible. Yet nobody has been able to prove the existence of ghosts. So how can they exist? And yet…

The house that we are living in is haunted. Only now, that my youngest is 18 (and more importantly, her two older brothers can handle it), can this truth finally be told. It does not seem possible that a new house can be haunted but there you go. From the time we moved in, everyone in the house would hear the sound of someone walking around upstairs.

Now this didn’t happen every day. But it happened often enough that friends and other family members heard it as well. It seemed to be primarily in my son’s room. We assuaged the kids fears by explaining that it was the furnace (in the winter) or the air conditioner (in the summer). It was the pipes. It was the air exchanger. Secretly, my husband and I were both pretty sure it had nothing to do with the construction and functioning of the house. It was too transient. And it seemed to move around.

This was such a clear and specific sound that, more than once, I had been home alone and heard it upstairs and called up “Hello?” – suddenly sure that there had to be someone else in the house. There wasn’t. This didn’t happen always late at night when it was scary and dark – this was two in the afternoon when I was working at my computer. I would have bet real money that I wasn’t alone. But I was. Or was I?

After we were in the house for ten years, I had a barbecue party with the members of my choir. One of the women brought her husband who had grown up on our property when it had been the old farmhouse. After a couple of beers, sitting outside in the lovely summer evening, he suddenly asked – apropos of nothing – “so do you still hear the ghost?”.

My husband and I both jumped – neither of us had mentioned anything about this to anyone else. (what? us nuts?) The hair on the back of my neck was standing up as we asked him to elaborate and he explained that there had always been the ghost of an old farmer who would occasionally walk around the porch and other rooms. “No harm done”. he told us.

And he was right. I don’t know how but none of us every felt any kind of malice or negativity coming from this presence. It wasn’t scary in the way that you would expect an apparition or presence to be scary. It felt…like it belonged there. Now when I hear him (and it is most definitely a him) walking around upstairs I smile up and wish him well. Either that or it’s just the floorboards contracting…

Fan does come from the word “Fanatic”

I think I am the only person who feels sorry for Mariah Yeater, the young woman who has claimed that Justin Bieber fathered her baby, in a bathroom backstage after his concert in Los Angeles last July. First of all, this girl was 20 years old and …this is key… she was at a Justin Bieber concert! That is incredibly sad, whether she was there by herself or whether she was babysitting a bunch of 11 year olds and left them unattended while she had sex in the bathroom with Justin.
Now I don’t think she really did have sex with him – but she does. “She believes Justin Bieber is the father,” her lawyer told Chicago TV channel WGNtv on Wednesday. My guess? A 20 year old girl at a concert, perhaps had imbibed something which affected her judgement. You think? Now add in a guy, say…one of the maintenance staff at the venue or, even better, a creepy young man who has enhanced his slightly similar appearance to Justin’s by clever use of hair products and large sunglass. This guy follows the Justin concert schedule and for the price of a ticket is able to hang around near the stage doors and entice young women into thinking he is the real deal. Perhaps Justin’s management even pays him to act as a decoy to enable our young star to disappear into his limousine unmolested at the end of every show – which is what he maintains he does after every show.
Young female fans are particularly vulnerable. From the girls swooning over Sinatra at the Paramount in 1952, to the girls screaming at La Guardia as the Beatles arrived in 1964, to the hordes of screaming girls who trampled me in the summer of 1976 trying to get close to, wait for it, the Bay City Rollers. Good Lord. I get it, I really do. It’s fun to have a bigger than life idol that you can spend lots of time and money on. Hey I’ve been to more than 15 Springsteen concerts – but that’s different. It’s Springsteen for heaven’s sake!
Robert Pattinson, of Twilight fame (did I have to say that on today of all days with Breaking Dawn Part 1 opening in just a few hours!) has been approached by hundreds of girls asking him to bite their necks. It freaks him out, as well it should.
So, while the young mother in the Bieber saga has dropped her lawsuit, her lawyer says she intends to pursue it privately. I have to agree with Bieber’s spokesman Matthew Hiltzik who called it “sad that someone would fabricate such a malicious, defamatory, and demonstrably false claim”. I think it’s even sadder that this chick had sex in the bathroom with some guy after a concert – whether it was Justin Bieber or not.