I’m way beyond excited to announce the release of my third book. It’s a collection of true-life stories from a musician, moi, who’s toured and taught for over 30 years. I tell you about my visit to New York City where I almost got to be on national TV (if only I could twerk), the creative excuses I get from my students including “We couldn’t find her guitar” (it was in their van), and a gig where a heckler climbed on stage with me. I write about women’s music festivals, Alix Dobkin, Alison Bechdel, and how I came to perform in a trio calling itself “We Aren’t Dead Yet.” I rant about Spotify, who paid me a princely 10 cents one quarter, and include a list of 23 things you should never tell a musician. Number one? “Did you have insurance on that?”
Sample chapter below!
Sample chapter: Hallelujah
When I first got the day hospice gig, I envisioned beds filled with weak looking people, surrounded by solemn loved ones, my soothing music helping them rest. Turned out they’d rather hear “Eight Days a Week” or “Wagon Wheel.” I played in a comfortable living room, not a bed in sight. There was usually a raucous card game going on as a volunteer pushed a cart with snacks and juice served in elegant wine glasses.
I always looked for Andrew when I arrived for my shift. When I first met him a year ago, a middle-aged white guy in casual clothes, brown hair carefully combed to the side, he was thin and moving slowly. Even though he kidded me about the ukulele he sometimes looked my way and smiled when I did a song he liked. Turned out he just liked to hassle me since he played a “superior” instrument, the guitar.
After being away for the summer I came into the living room, I moved a chair, unfolded the music stand and pulled the ukulele out of the case. While I tuned, I looked around for Andrew. When I didn’t see him my first thought was, did he pass? I always wondered when I saw someone one week and not the next. It could simply be that they recovered or went to another hospice; however, it could be the inevitable. Fifteen minutes passed before Andrew strolled into the room with an energetic step. He looked better than that first time, his color robust, so my thoughts switched to something more positive – maybe he was recovering?
I didn’t know anything about Andrew’s health. We weren’t allowed to ask why the clients were there unless they brought it up, we only provided art projects, card games, food, massage, and music. I was usually background music to a decibel-busting card game. Someone played a good hand and they all screamed with laughter, then pointed fingers at Andrew, accusing him of having cards up his sleeve. I didn’t care that they found euchre more interesting than my music. They were there to enjoy themselves and perhaps forget about pain and hospitals and what their last test revealed. Once in a while I saw a foot tapping or lips moving to the lyrics. Sometimes they clapped after I finished a song. Usually they didn’t. They didn’t know I’d toured over thirty years or that I recorded thirteen albums. It didn’t matter.
Andrew told me he liked Credence Clearwater Revival so one week I brought in songs for him. Partway through “Bad Moon Rising” I realized it was one of those songs where you don’t really hear the lyrics until you sing them. There I was cheerfully singing about rage and ruin at the end of the world when I decided that one verse and chorus was enough. I switched to “Down on the Corner.” An upbeat song about buskers was much better.
One week I brought the guitar. Andrew grinned and commented, “You brought the big boy!” “Big girl!” I corrected and we laughed.
I’m good at faces, bad at names. I remember Andrew because he was there every time. He doesn’t always recall my name and sometimes he looks confused when I bring up his guitar playing, like he can’t fathom how I know he plays. Some weeks we’ve had conversations about kinds of music and guitars but his meds probably scramble his brain. As long as he enjoys our talks in the moment, it’s good.
One day Andrew was in the parking lot smoking a cigarette when I walked up for my gig. “Oh good, it’s you” he said between puffs. “When it’s not you, that lady with the harp shows up and I’m not ready for that yet.”
One day an elderly gentleman slowly lowered himself into a recliner near me. A volunteer covered his lap with a blanket. He confided that he couldn’t sing or remember the words to anything. I assured him that it didn’t matter. When I got to the chorus of “Brown Eyed Girl” I invited him to sing along. He softly sang in a creaky voice, “La-la-la la-la-la-la …” “See, you can remember the words!” I complimented him. A smile lit up his face.
A young woman in her thirties was often there. She wore a turban and sat next to an oxygen tank. As I was packing up one day she smiled and commented that she liked those old songs. Old songs? Did she not hear me play “Riptide?” Okay, one song out of thirty written after 1980 did not count. I had to give my musician’s ego a firm “down girl.”
I was strumming a rhythmic song one day and looked up to see a thin woman, half her jaw missing but still smiling and bouncing up and down. “I love that song!” she exclaimed after I was done, telling me how much she loved that band. “Do you know anything else by them?” I didn’t but she was happy to boogie along to the next song I did. I only saw her that one time.
The volunteers, mostly older women, were sweet. They sat near clients, talking or simply sitting in silence. One gave hand massages. One, in her eighties, was usually dressed in pastels, her white hair carefully curled. She clapped to my faster songs, usually off beat. She sang, even when she didn’t know the words.
The clients were fairly mobile, some using a wheelchair or walker, and only there for the day. We got them out of their house, gave their caretakers a break, and offered social time and something to do.
One day one of the volunteers leaned down to me between songs and quietly said, “A client passed in one of the back rooms. He’ll be wheeled down the hallway and when that happens there’s a moment of silence.” A few minutes later she said softly, “It’s time.” I’d been singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” I stopped, the last chord gently fading away. We all turned toward the hall as a group of people, heads bowed, pushed a covered gurney slowly by. A minute later, the boisterous card game resumed and I finished “Hallelujah,” fighting tears.