Monday, March 30, 2009

Doing the Tucson Folk Festival

Cinder Bridge will be doing the Tucson Folk Festival in May. We play on Saturday at the Old Town Artisan stage.


Will update with exact date and time as soon as I remember what they are.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Brilliant new sales strategy

I'm generally good about promoting our CD when we play out. I make it known that (a) we have an album, and (b) it is available right here. I do this several times during the course of a gig. And when we don't get any bites, I assume the audience just didn't like us enough.

At today's gig, though, I tried something new. I said how much the CDs cost. And we got three sales, which was pretty respectable given the size of the crowd.

Why did this matter? Because at most gigs, people don't sit through an entire set. Even if they're enjoying the music, they tend to have other places to go. If we tell them how much they need to pay, they don't have to wait around to ask us. They can drop their money in the CD case, grab a CD, and be on their way.

I cannot believe it took me four years to figure this out.

Gigging with Robyn Landis

Neat gig at Old Town Artisans Saturday afternoon. We shared the stage with Robyn Landis, a Seattle-based folksinger-songwriter who headlined at the Music and Your Health event we played in November. The OTA gig went from 12 to 3 p.m., and the plan was for Robyn to play from 1 to 2.

I'd been looking forward to this because Robyn is a very talented musician and songwriter (I'm not the only one who thinks so; she's won all kinds of awards), and I was flattered that she wanted to play with us. At the beginning of our first set, however, I found myself a little nervous. Musicians pick up on subtle mistakes that other listeners might miss. If I hit a note that was a little off, she'd know! Eek!

We must not have done too badly, though. She told us she really liked us. And she must have meant it, because she asked if we'd like to back her up when it was her turn to play. We did. Much fun was had by all.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Paws at the Plaza postscript: Pilfering the percussionist

Geez. I went to all the trouble of describing passerby responses at our last gig -- in handy bullet-point format, no less -- and forgot the best response of all.

As we were breaking down, Ron the Drummer told me that some guy had pressed a business card into his hand. I looked at the card and shrugged. The name on it didn't mean anything to me. Ron turned it over to reveal a handwritten note. Dude was looking for a drummer and wanted to know if Ron was interested.

Ha HA! Thank you, business card guy, for recognizing Ron's incredible drumming prowess. But out of all the musicians in Tucson desperately seeking a drummer, Ron wants to work with ME.

Now that I think of it, I should've included that in the counting-of-blessings bullet points in my birthday post as well. Consider it belatedly added.

Speaking of the birthday, it actually went fine despite my prior kvetchfest. My boyfriend dutifully informed me that I was still hot, and then we ate an obscene amount of sushi.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

A birthday for the late bloomer

"And I'm gonna be 40."
"In eight years."
"But it's there. It's just sitting there, like some big dead end."
-- from When Harry Met Sally

"I don't like old people on a rock stage. I think they look silly."
-- Grace Slick
* * *

I didn't think it would bug me.

Turning 30 didn't bug me. It was slightly freaky, sure. Even if I'd been self-supporting since leaving college, the 20s seemed in some ways like extended adolescence; 30 represented this new level of for-real grown-upness. But I was happy. I'd recently broken out of my years-long graduate school holding pattern, and at age 29 I'd landed my first career job in publishing. Who cared if my salary was almost nothing? I was finally going places.

And having gotten through 30 unscathed, I thought I'd never be one of those people who made a big deal about 40.

But here's what happened. Just a few months later, I began writing my first song. It wasn't anything I'd planned to do. Totally unexpected. That song opened up possibilities for my life I hadn't imagined. I wrote more songs, had my parents move our old upright piano to my house, bought a keyboard, joined a band, and learned to sing. Somewhere in the process, I began to think of the editorial career I'd embarked on as "the day job."

The irony? My publishing career is going quite well. If I'd never tried to stake out a claim as a musician, I think I'd be about as OK with 40 as I was with 30. I've expanded my skill set to include graphic design. I'm told my resume kicks ass. I have a cool job and I'm earning, if not close to six figures, at least an adult salary.

The music career, however, feels like it's going turtle-slow. Ron and I have recorded an album -- with financial backing, even -- but we haven't sold many copies. We've never played outside of Tucson. We don't have a huge Internet following. That's not terrible if you take into account that I only started 10 years ago. It's normal to pay dues for a while. Still, I think about all the people who have made it, and they all hit the big time much earlier.

Hell, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain were already dead by 27. I have a lot of catching up to do.

Seriously, though. When musicians are famous in their 40s, it's because they began in their 20s. I'm told they still put on on hell of a show, but imagine Mick and the boys starting the Rolling Stones at my age. Would anyone have taken them seriously?

Slow and steady wins the race at a desk job. If you're a singer-songwriter, it feels like they take the finish line away from you if you don't reach it in time.


OK. Enough of that. Today is my birthday, and I don't want to turn it into a big pity party. So as I ruminate on all of the above, I remind myself of the following:
  • Cinder Bridge doesn't play the kind of music that requires a hot young frontsman to prance around on stage.

  • I didn't get into this for the sole purpose of becoming rich and famous. The music is an end in itself. If I'm still playing in coffeehouses when I'm 70, so be it.

  • Perhaps most importantly, if my musical career had begun early, I suspect it would have been limited to keyboard playing. I wouldn't have started writing songs because I wouldn't have had anything to write about. I wouldn't have learned that I could sing because I'd have had no reason to try.
Still. Pity party aside, when I write songs, I do so with the hope that a lot of other people will hear them, and that at least a few of those people will love them. I want to be recognized for the thing I do best.

I don't know anyone who's broken into the scene this late in life. I have no role models.

On the other hand ... that means if I do it, I'll be the first. I'll be the role model.

That could be cool.

* * *

"You're never too old to rock and roll if you're too young to die."
-- Jethro Tull

Paws at the Plaza

This afternoon (well, officially yesterday afternoon since it's after midnight now), Cinder Bridge gigged for an event called "Paws at the Plaza." We played at Casas Adobes Plaza, an upscale strip mall, as friendly Humane Society staff paraded cute adoptable dogs around.

I expected it to be purely an atmosphere gig, providing background music as dog lovers watched the doggies. As it turned out, we got some actual listeners.
  • A few people came specifically to see us. That's always nice.

  • More than a few passersby stopped to listen for a while instead of simply glancing over as they continued on their way. I'm not sure why this surprised me. If I didn't have faith that our music was good enough to listen to, I'd find other ways to spend my time. Still, people are busy, you know? It's neat if we can get them to stop whatever they're in the middle of just to hear us.

  • One of the passersby, upon seeing that we didn't have a tip jar (forgot to put it out, darnit), pressed $5 into my hand between songs. (We later donated our tips to the Humane Society.)

  • During our last few songs, we were joined by a group of kids, all boys, maybe 12 or 13 years old. They seemed to enjoy us. Again, that really surprised me. I have no idea what boys of that age usually listen to, but I didn't think it was Cinder Bridge.
Additionally, the weather was heartbreakingly beautiful and we had a great view of the Catalinas from where we were sitting. All in all, a good day.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, five of the cute dogs got adopted.

ME/CFS is not just being really tired

Last month I posted a link to Pamela Weintraub's article about why recent research on ME/CFS is bogus. The study found that experiencing sexual abuse in childhood puts one at greater risk for ME/CFS. Weintraub argued that the methodology was highly flawed, and that the study was part of an ongoing effort on the part of CDC to misclassify ME/CFS as a psychological disorder.

In response, a commenter pointed out:
It should be kept in mind, however, that it is well possible there is a link between trauma and CFS/ME - and it does not in any way indicate that the illness is psychiatric or psychosomatic in origin (or that it could be treated with psychotherapy), even though that's what the media often makes out of it. It's well-known that in lab animals trauma early in their life causes irrepairable damage to the HPA axis.
This is a reasonable argument, and it's true. Stressors do affect the immune system, and exploring these kinds of mind/body connections doesn't necessarily imply that the resulting diseases are all in the patient's head.

So what's the problem with this study, and others like it?

Many of the subjects don't actually have ME/CFS.

People with ME/CFS feel crushing fatigue, significant pain, and post-exertional malaise. The latter term means that any exertion -- even just walking to the bathroom and back -- causes them to feel much, much worse. The CDC's definition, however, only includes pain and post-exertional malaise as possible symptoms.

This is important. There are a lot of conditions that can make people feel chronically tired for a long time. One of them is clinical depression. If you're looking for the effects of childhood sexual abuse, and you include subjects who have clinical depression but not true ME/CFS, you're going to seriously skew your results.

It's not simply that they've funded a study focusing on a psychological cause. It's that they've extended the definition of ME/CFS to include people who might be suffering from clinical depression instead.

I'll conclude with another quote from Weintraub's original article:
Perhaps the most notable thing about the Emory study, Johnson points out, is that it fails to cite a study performed in 2001 that asked the identical question. That study demonstrated that people with CFS actually have a lower incidence of childhood abuse and trauma than controls.

Friday, March 6, 2009

When songs leave the nest

All the love
All the hate
Vanished in the night
I turned around to look and it was gone
I don't care
'bout proving who was right
And I guess that's what they mean by moving on
Ron the Drummer forwarded me e-mail from a friend of his, the one who recently told him she'd been listening to our album a lot because it was "hopeful and uplifting." She said "Moving On," one of the tracks, had become a very important song in her life. It gave her hope that her pain would pass, and the hope helped make it so.

(You can listen to the song here if you're curious. Click "Moving On" if it doesn't come up first.)

Ron's friend wanted to thank me for writing the song. She wanted me to know that perhaps the pain that inspired "Moving On" wasn't for nothing, since the song helped another person get through her own crisis more smoothly.
Torn apart
I mourned the innocence you stole
But given time, all things must pass
Like a river
The years run through my soul
And make its craggy canyons smooth as glass
Funny thing is, I was angry when I wrote that song. I hadn't moved on from the situation that inspired it at all. "Moving On" was what I hoped I would feel someday. I'm not sure if hoping made it so, but creating the song helped. There's something very powerful about taking the raw materials of experience and interpretation and emotion and giving them form. Making them beautiful.

And now that they have form, now that the song is a song, it has a life of its own. It connects with people who don't know me at all, and they filter it through their own experiences, interpretations, emotions.

It's gratifyingly weird.