Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Perils of Perfectionism

Note: To those who subscribe to this blog, kindly subscribe to my new blog, which is now hosted on my newly redesigned web site. For the next month or so, I'll continue to cross-post here as well.

Something curious this week happened with my music. Frustrated with the MP3 player provided by Amazon, I decided to give Google Play a try, and somehow—and I’ve really no idea how this happened—my entire music catalog appeared on my smartphone. I never uploaded the music stored on my computer to any kind of Google cloud storage, so I’ve absolutely no idea how every single piece of music I own is now on my phone.

But I’m not complaining, and instead delighted by the accident, as when I saw the covers of my two albums, I decided to give them a listen after years of not hearing a single song. In fact, I dare say I’ve not listened to the entire disc of My Life of Crime since it was completed in 2002, as back then, my perfectionism caused me such agony that I couldn’t bare to sit with it, as all I heard were its shortcomings.

I thought it so flawed, in fact, that I remember sobbing to my friend one night on the phone, knowing that I’d reached the end of my budget, which was way overblown already, and thus would have to live with what was, no matter the outcome. In short, I was heartbroken, feeling that years of work had basically been wasted. It was an epic fail, and that was that.

In the ensuing years, even the thought of the album caused me pain, so for all this time, it has basically sat on the shelf. I did promote it somewhat shortly after its release, but illness soon set in, which in a weird way got me off the hook, as I didn’t believe in it as much as Daddy’s Little Girl (1997). I was relieved.

This all brings me to this week, when the sight of the cover on my phone prompted me to hit “play,” and I have to admit, I’m flabbergasted. I can’t even remember what I thought so wrong with it all those years ago, and instead heard nothing but clear, striking songs; lush arrangements; crisp production; and a shocking amount of talent from all the musicians who lent their gifts to the project.

I dare say the latter is what struck me the most, leaving me humbled and honored that people of this caliber made it affordable for me to hire them. Of course, they wouldn’t have sounded so wonderful without the gifts of the engineers involved, too, who recorded tracks that could go head to head with anything put out by a major label.

And so I’ve been listening this week not as a heartbroken perfectionist, but as a fan, as a huge part of me feels like I didn’t even write these songs. To this day, I feel like they came through me, from some source I can’t explain. I simply had to be patient for the song’s arrival, upon which it was my job to peel back the onion layers, under which was a beautiful baby song…bright, shiny, innocent, and perfect.

As my new web site doesn’t have a jukebox, as my old site did, I’m loading my songs onto ReverbNation for the time being, so that I have a place to direct people in case they want to hear my work online.

I’m so thrilled that for the first time since its completion, I can share My Life of Crime as my pride and baby who has been patiently waiting in the wings for me to come around. I can’t believe it sat under wraps all this time.

I’m slowly building my ReverbNation page here. Five songs have been uploaded so far.

All of my songs are available on iTunes.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Six...No, Two...Degrees of Donna Summer

I just heard the sad news about the untimely passing of Donna Summer, the disco queen of the 1970s and early '80s, whose career took off in 1975 after meeting producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, the duo that wrote so many of her hits, such as "Hot Stuff," "I Feel Love" and "Love to Love You Baby," among so many others.

When I read the details of her passing today in the New York Times and saw Mr. Bellotte's name, my mind quickly flashed back to 1998 and an email I received from him soon after the release of my first disc, Daddy's Little Girl. Without saying who he was, he very kindly inquired about getting a copy of the album, noting that he was having no luck finding it in England, where he lived and worked.

Donna Summer in 1970.
As a lot of press and music people were asking for promos back then, I immediately wrote back saying that I'd be happy to send him a copy, but asked how he'd heard about me, as I was surprised that I was getting an inquiry from the U.K.

He replied saying that he'd heard about me from a stateside producer, Keith Forsey, who apparently had told him that Daddy's Little Girl was a "must-have." Having no idea who Forsey was either, I started googling, and was startled to learn not only about Bellotte's impressive credentials, but also those of Forsey, who penned the hit "Don't You Forget About Me" by Simple Minds (the theme song of The Breakfast Club), as well as Flashdance's "What a Feeling," for which he'd won an Oscar.

As I was so astonished that anyone at all knew about my music, let alone such successful producers and songwriters on both sides of the pond, I couldn't help but express a girlish, squealing enthusiasm in my next email, noting that as only a few hundred discs were in circulation at the time, it was somewhat mind-boggling that anyone knew about me at all.

Pete must have found this amusing, because he went on to say that not only had he heard about me from Forsey, but also from Don Henley.

When I received that particular missive, I recall staring at the computer screen for a few moments, reading the name "Don Henley" over and over, as I couldn't quite get it to register.

"Don Henley?" I wrote back. "You mean...from the Eagles?????" (And yes, I did insert that many question marks.)

Pete replied, "Yes. The last time I was in Los Angeles, I read an interview with Don in Mix Magazine, and he was talking about what a wonderful singer you were. So I jotted down your name in my date book, to remind myself to look you up. Then I heard about you again from Keith, and then from Jackson Browne."

What the...???

Again, I just stared at the email. Jackson Browne? Of...Jackson Browne?????

As I'd already used up my question mark quotient for the day, and because I didn't want to sound like a complete numnut, I didn't ask how in God's name Jackson Browne had heard of me. I also think I was just saturated by absolute astonishment at everything that had occurred in a matter of about ten minutes. So I just let the whole thing drop, but not before I went in search of that article in Mix Magazine.

Unfortunately, I was to learn that there were actually three Mix Magazines at the time, all spelled differently, each with a different numbers of "x's", so I was never able to find that Don Henley article (nor did I ever figure out why my music seemed to resonate with '70s rock gods). I did write to each publication, but no one ever replied, and that was that.

Pete and I stayed in close touch that year, and at one point he even played around with my song "A Better Haircut" in his computer, deleting the intro and speeding up the tempo. He also added some drum tracks to the single "Daddy's Little Girl," all just for fun, just to see what I thought of what he considered could be some improvements.

We continued to check in with one another every once in awhile over the ensuring years, but eventually we stopped writing. I seem to recall him struggling with some serious complications in his life, possibly an illness (I can't quite recall), and, of course, I went on to have the most hellish decade of my life, struggling with my own illness, during which my music became a minor footnote in my life.

But what a fond memory of someone I never even met in person. I was struggling so hard in those days to get my music heard, and with a few clicks of his "send" button, Pete provided me with the validation I needed to keep going, as he proved to me that my music could generate that all important "word of mouth" that every artist dreams of.

Of course, how I wish that could have happened on a much grander scale, but the sadness I feel about a music career unfulfilled in no way diminishes the sheer delight I feel each and every time I hear the name Pete Bellotte. I'm so sorry you lost your friend today, Pete. But I'm so happy that, at least for a little while, you were mine.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Revenge of the Invisible

Young geniuses are everywhere. This week, New York Magazine announced the arrival a 25-year-old female showrunner for HBO's new show, Girls, with a spectacular cover story. I read the article today, right on the heels of watching Oprah's interview with Lady Gaga, another astonishing 25-year-old who's accomplished more in the last five years than I feel like I have in my entire life.

Why these occurrences should feel like such a punch in the chest mystifies me, as I certainly have a lot to be proud of, but it's most likely because I'm now at the tender age of 53, which in this culture threatens a development most foul, and one every woman dreads with the passing of each decade--that one day soon I'll be completely and utterly invisible, and my dear-to-my-heart work will be irrelevant. To whom? To 18- to 39-year-olds, of course, that hallowed demographic that's the motor behind just about every media decision that's made.

Of course, invisibility and irrelevance is what I fear, and it's up to me to not buy into the bullshit of 17-year-olds selling wrinkle creams or magazines that basically ignore anyone over 40. But man, it's tough, as I feel just so bombarded. Even if I were to turn off the TV for good, this youth frenzy is still all over the internet, and even at the grocery store checkout, where magazine covers routinely celebrate incredibly young males and females for basically doing very little.

Beatrix Ost. Obviously,
she could care less.
I can't seem to get away from the fact that the media simply isn't paying attention to me anymore, unless it has to do with things like menopausal hot flashes or Lifestyle Lifts, the latter of which, ironically enough, promises to make you relevant again by ripping off portions of skin attached to your face and throwing it in the trash. Yes, this makes me feel so very valued indeed.

This fascination with youth is nothing new, of course, as feminists have been railing against it for decades. But what's new to me is how personally affected I've become by it. There's a new type of ache that I've been carrying around lately that has entirely to do with the world in which I live and how it treats women my age. It's not a pain that comes from my history or my fears or my insecurities. It comes from the media, and I'm reminded of that old feminist chestnut that the personal IS the political.

At some point in a woman's life, how she feels is directly related to how her world treats her, whether it has to do with abortion, family planning, fair pay or media images, among other things. In my own case, I can no longer escape the chilling exclusion of women in certain areas of our society simply because we're not young anymore, and it hurts. It hurts bad.

Sure...there are 50-something female journalists still working, and Meryl Streep did win the Oscar this year. But they're more the exception than the rule, and nine times out of ten these gals have been to the plastic surgeon more than once to achieve that fresh face.

I admit that I've thought of plastic surgery myself, not that I can afford it, but then I'm reminded of the plastic surgery disasters that end up making the women look so much older, and thus pathetic. We're in a no-win situation, we ladies, damned if we look old, but damned to hell if we resort to plastic surgery that doesn't quite work out.

So what's a girl to do? How do I grab the reins of my consciousness and blast out the bullshit?

For one thing, I'm going to give myself permission to wear whatever I damn well please as I get older, "age-appropriateness" be damned. So what if I look like a crackpot. No one is looking at me anyway. I may as well enjoy my platforms.

Second, I have to constantly remind myself that I'm actually okay with growing older. I'm not mad I'm aging; I'm mad that I'm not respected for it...for my wisdom, for my compassion, and yes, even for my beauty, which exists with any age. Sometimes I look at my mom and am so moved by how cute she is, and no, it's not just because I love her. It's because she has an incredibly cute face that hasn't changed much since she was a kid. And when she puts a little makeup on, she absolutely sparkles. She never bought into the old lady style of dressing, either. She sports a Land's End look, which she's been wearing her whole life.

And third, I need to seek out role models of older women who are living fabulously and fashionably, who wouldn't be caught dead near a plastic surgeon's office. I recently created a Pinterest board called "Fabulous Seniors," which can be seen here. I think they're stunning, and I'm not just saying that in some kind of P.C. way. They really do look fantastic.

I probably also need to accept that I am going to hurt about all this for awhile, because my culture isn't going to change anytime soon, and I'm going to need time to find my platforms, 'natch.

Featured item from my Etsy Shop: the Brooks Locket.
The whole shop: maryannfarley.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pain for Sale

I've been away from my blog for so long because in August, I relaunched my Etsy shop (an online site that sells handmade goods from all over the world), which had been sitting dormant since 2007. And every day since...I kid you not...I've been putting in a good eight hours a day, sometimes more. I'd no idea what a gargantuan...and satisfying...task this would be.

I owe it all to quitting smoking exactly one year ago (March 22, 2011), which unleashed a shocking amount of creativity. Yes, the smoking was obviously bad for my already fragile health, but as I was obsessing about it so much, it was also bad for my mental health, as the guilt trips were apparently eating me alive. Once I stopped smoking, it was as if there was nothing to think about anymore. I was free in a brave new world that didn't include lighting up, and I was positively shocked at just how much mental real estate the guilt had devoured.

At first my creativity exploded all over the place. I was painting again, writing songs again, I even made a YouTube video. I was also painting furniture and doing crafts like making paper roses, even creating bouquets that I would then give away. (!?) In short, even though I was still in pain, I was excited about everything, but soon realized that I was on my way to becoming the jack of all trades, master of nothing.

So I whittled it down to this: I need money, so which of these pursuits is the most likely to bring in some much-needed cash?

The answer was to use my art to create all kinds of funky items to sell in my Etsy shop, and with that decision, I've yet to look back. In the seven months I've been doing this, I've made over 170 items, which include art originals, art prints, pendants, lockets, rings, journals, with even more items in the pipeline.

Since the relaunch in August, it's indeed been a curious time, as certain days I feel like my old self again, so full of joy and excitement, literally bouncing out of bed in the morning, eager to start my day. But it's also been a period of alarming increasing pain in my face, which has required an increase in my pain medication. I've no idea what's going on, but obviously the necrosis in the bone is spreading, and I'll need to get more surgery...and soon.

Aside from the pain, which is excruciating, I'm just so afraid of this condition getting worse overall. I read recently that it can even spread to other bones in my body, not just my face, which is info I did NOT need to hear. I worry enough as it is.

I was going to start a new blog that focused just on my art and my Etsy shop, but I'm not sure I can split myself like that, as my art and my pain, and even the shop, are all so intertwined. So I'll start combining things and see what happens.

My concern is that I don't want to seem like I'm using my pain to hawk my wares, as that would indeed be tasteless. On my bad days, I can write those suicidal-type posts, where I'm pouring my heart out to my readers, literally in tears. "But by the way...have you seen this week's featured necklace...ON SALE?" That would be crass, right?

Actually, this week's featured item is a giclee print, below...just $15! Grab it while you can! (sigh...)

New 8" x 10" print: "Sahara"
The shop: maryannfarley