The long dark hallway...

Sometimes when I walk into an unlit room, or when a room becomes abruptly dark, it fills me with the feeling of some "other" thing. I don't know what it is, but I like it. A long time ago I wrote a song about it called "Hallway."

Recently, my friend Michael Dunn needed music for a short film he created called The Bet. Considering that the entire film takes place in a hallway, I thought that song was the obvious choice. I had to twist it around a little to turn the song from intriguing-mysterious into dark-hopeless. This is a well-crafted but grim little movie.

When I revamped it, I asked my sister, Justine, to collaborate with me. I liked her voice more for this song, and I also needed her to help me with the overall composition and technical stuff. We fought bitterly through most of the process, because she says I am a "nazi" and there is no such thing as a "collaboration" with me. It's probably true, but shut up. She also complained that there was no reward for this kind of project, and in my annoying way I tried to convince her that art was it's own reward. As a participant in many thankless artistic endeavors, I can attest that I really believe in that little altruism.

Eventually we made it into the studio, Michael handled the post-production, and the end result is pretty cool. The accompanying video that Michael made to go along with the DVD is awesome. Justine had a lot of fun making it, and in the end I know she was glad to have been part of the project. I also think she has the face of a jerk.


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Hopeless (Romantic)

I hope he finds her. I hope they fall madly in love and make many happy babies that grow up to be well-adjusted political activists who live on raw vegetables and save the world. I really do.

I hope that when they meet, they don't feel obligated to stay together because everyone has turned them into the poster children for romantic love, and that their few initial bouts of hot sex don't turn into mild annoyance and a mutual low-grade depression. I'm just saying.


Words to Live By

I subscribe to daily quotes from Inspiration Peak, because they always seem to send the right words at the right time. Considering the recent fires around here that have stolen homes from thousands of people, I thought today’s quote was perfect:

Everything you see has its roots in the unseen world. The forms may change, yet the essence remains the same. Every wonderful sight will vanish; every sweet word will fade, But do not be disheartened, The source they come from is eternal, growing, Branching out, giving new life and new joy. Why do you weep? The source is within you And this whole world is springing up from it. – Jelaluddin Rumi 13th Century Persian Poet

On a similar note, last week Tom and I were walking past our favorite restaurant, Jyoti Bihanga, and there was this note taped to the door:

It made us very sad, and not just because we wouldn’t be eating vegetarian meatloaf for a whole week. Sri Chinmoy seemed, well, like a super guy, full of love and compassion and great recipe ideas. His followers make really, really good food.

It is sad that he “passed behind the curtain of Eternity,” but the sari-clad servers at Jyoti Bihanga need not be disheartened – he merely went back to the “eternal, growing source from which the whole world springs.”

When everything seems lost, I will try to remember that.

Switchyard News

This blog was supposed to be an extension of Switchyard music news, but music has been so far off of my radar that I forgot. Well, rejoice, my three fans, because I have news.

The first item is an interview I did with Short End Magazine. Interviews make me almost as nervous as performing live. I did this one over the phone, while sitting in my car, and I babbled breathlessly for what seemed like eternity. I was happy that she was able to make me sound coherent. You can read it here.

The next item is that the video for Salt of the Sea will be featured as Paste Magazine’s video of the day. This is very exciting to me, because Paste Magazine is sold at my local Henry’s, and it’s cooler than Rolling Stone.

These are both thanks to Our Stage, a music site that lets people vote for their favorite music. Salt of the Sea won the jazz competition for the month of September, and I got $100 and a tshirt! Yay! They also hooked me up with all this other stuff. Lucky for me I am agoraphobic, which frees me up to do things like enter online contests. To hell with touring! The internet is All Powerful!


David Lynch meets Gucci?

I didn't know David Lynch made commercials. But apparently he does:

I don't get it. Am I missing something here? If silly and uninspired is the new dark and unsettling, then my hero has gone and done it again.

(found at notcot)

Back from the grave and ready to party!

It is 4am, and I am lying on the cool, marble floor of a hotel bathroom in Reno. I am clutching my stomach, thinking that now is the worst possible time to get sick. The pain, just under my ribs, is unbearable. I can’t figure out what’s causing it. If I was vomiting or had the shits, it would be easier. At least I’d know the end result of my stomachache. But this is a different kind of pain – a blunt, gripping stab that hovers right in the center of my body.

My best friend is asleep in the next room, unaware of my situation. My hand is claw-like at my belly. I start breathing hard, Lamaze-style, hoping that it will get me through this mystery contraction.

The pain lingers for about 20 minutes then fades away, and I’m exhausted. I crawl between the cool white hotel sheets and fall asleep.

An hour later I am awake again, my stomach wracked with painful spasms. I get up and go back to the bathroom, where I can make hyperventilating noises without waking up my friend. This totally sucks.

And if that isn’t bad enough, lately I have been suffering from a case of hives that makes poison ivy seem like fun. My flesh, as of late, is a hot, burning mass of itch that will not go away. My body has become a map of every place I’ve been touched in the last 10 minutes, because I have what is called “dermographism”. My doctor tests me for this by lightly dragging a pen in a crisscross pattern over the inside of my arm. A second later, giant, red welts appear where the pen has been.

“Your immune system is very angry right now,” my doctor said. Apparently, I was allergic to something. My immune system wasn’t just angry; it was murderous.

My skin was being invaded by a circus of traveling hives that relocated every 5 minutes to a different part of my body. First, it would be the back of my head. It began with a tingling heat that would explode into a blazing fire and an unrelenting itch that was impossible to ignore. I would scrape my nails over the area again and again, experiencing the illusion of relief, while it got worse with every scratch. Then, just when I thought the episode had passed, it would spread to my ears, and then inside my ears. Then it would migrate to my arms, my ass, the bottoms of my feet, the palms of my hands. And so on. This itch would haunt me all day until I took an antihistamine, which only made the hives calm down a bit.

So there I was, in a nice hotel in Reno, on the bathroom floor. I didn’t want to wake up Gina, who brought me there on a gambling adventure. It was my ambition to win a few extra dollars to get me through my many months of unemployment. Gina, the gambling professional, was to be my blackjack coach.

Despite having grown up in Las Vegas, I never once sat at a blackjack table. When I was a kid, being on the “floor” or anywhere near those half moon, green-felted tables, was strictly prohibited. So the feeling of the table being “forbidden” is permanently ingrained in my mind. When I sat down to play for the first time and picked up the cards, my hands visibly trembled.

Gina preferred to “work” during the small morning hours, and I wasn’t used to being awake at 2am. There I sat for two days, nervous, exhausted and itching, the pain in my stomach coming and going. At one point during this trip, Gina looked at me and said, “When did you get so fragile?” Yeah, when did I?

Despite all that, the trip was a success. With Gina’s help, I won enough money to buy groceries, pay bills and impress my boyfriend. When I finally got home, I took a few extra benadryls and crawled into bed.

Stomach pain. It woke me up like an evil alarm clock. The cramping was worse than ever, and the hives were still raging their hot, angry tour of my body. I sat up, the room warm and bright with the afternoon sun, and clutched my gut. It was at that moment that I made the correlation between my stomach pain and the benadryl. I had taken a lot of them.

Irony of ironies, I am allergic to allergy medicine.

Over the course of the next year, I saw three doctors and took a lot of pills. I sampled every variety of antihistamine until I found one that didn’t hurt my stomach. I spent a lot of days in bed, dopey with medication and scratching myself. The hives took up residence with me for almost a year and a half. That was two years ago.

I had many suspicions about what was causing them – wheat, sugar, my boyfriend – but their origin remained a mystery, until now.

About three weeks ago, I got a bladder infection – the result of dehydration and excessive sexual activity. I went to urgent care, where I was prescribed Macrobid, an antibiotic. A week after finishing my prescription, I had a familiar sensation. And then, oh, hello hives.

That first episode had also followed a prescription for a bladder infection. Newsflash - I am allergic to antibiotics. I don’t know why it took my body more than a year to recover, but there are worse things. Like the plague, or cancer.

For six blissful months I did not itch. The offending eruptions receded into obscurity and vanished, I thought, forever.

But now they are back.

When I was a teenager, I had a movie poster in my room for The Return of the Living Dead, featuring several green and mangled zombie punk rockers. The tagline warned, “They’re back from the grave and ready to party!”

Imagine that, only instead of zombies, picture my flesh – red and welted with a mob of reborn hives that are all too ecstatic to have found their host again.

It’s funny (but not ‘ha, ha’ funny) how you take your health for granted when you’ve known nothing but health. My father always says, when somebody complains about something, “At least you’ve got your health!” I thought this was just a catchy phrase that old people used to make you feel guilty about their arthritis. But now I understand, and I cherish the days when I feel good.

The allergic reaction was worse this time around, as was the accompanying drug-induced stomach spasms. This time, as a last resort, I was given steroids. First, an oral dose that made me ravenous. One dose made me so hungry that my stomach could not even register food. It sent a constant message to my brain that I was starving, and that I would die if not stuffed endlessly with starchy carbohydrates. I gained 5 pounds in two days and threw the rest of the pills out.

Finally, I was given a shot of cortisone. That was 5 days ago, and it has given me a lot of relief. I’m still itchy and dopey (famous as the two dwarfs who also suffered from allergies), but better.

One of the worst things to do when you have any ailment is to go online and read about your ailment. You are guaranteed to find a handful of horror stories from people who had your symptoms exactly, or took the same prescription drugs, and ended up gaining 600 pounds, or losing their hair, or growing another arm.

According to my research on “chronic urticaria” – better known as “itchy welts that won’t go away” – I could potentially be hive-ridden for many more years, possibly the rest of my life. There is no more frustrated group of individuals than the ones who share this condition with me, and I’m a little worried.

But I vowed to myself that this time I would not take it lying down. I will see a healer, get hypnotherapy, or consult a shaman. Yesterday I saw an acupuncturist.

I have two words to describe acupuncture: weird and boring. Weird, because, come on, they stick you with little pins. And boring because then they leave you lying on a table with these little pins for 30 minutes while you stare at the carpet and listen to a CD of birds chirping.

But let me tell you what, if my “urticaria” disappears within the next 24 hours, I will become a crusader for acupuncture.

In the meantime, I will slather myself in cortisone cream and visualize the hives/zombies returning to their graves, done with partying and ready to move on to the next world.


Cooper Listens to Jesus

In lieu of buying a fancy camera (a Nikon D70, to be precise) I am experimenting with Photoshop. I don’t know that Photoshop editing can replace having a really nice camera, but there is still plenty of cool stuff you can do to a regular old photo. Here is my first serious attempt at photo editing. I call it, “Cooper listens to Jesus.”

Mostly I just bumped up the colors and added subtle lighting effects. I was inspired by my favorite blogger, Dooce, who posts an amazing photo of her dog every day. While my dog can not balance a pumpkin on her nose, like Chuck can, she is still a fine looking animal, and you can expect to see more of her in the future. In the meantime, if anyone has any great Photoshop tricks, I'd love to hear about them.



Today, after some pondering and pontificating, I had a great realization. A spark went off inside me, and I thought, "Aha!" I got up from my chair, and marched into the next room to announce this revelation to anyone who would hear me. With my head raised high and my index finger pointing upward (a gesture that goes with 'Aha!') I cleared my throat and announced:

"I will no longer be making grandiose announcements!"

It was very liberating.


Genius Sculpture

Speaking of art, holy shit. Look at these:
The Sculptures of Ron Mueck
This guy makes my sculpy heads look like something the cat coughed up.


Cute and Brutal: Art that hurts

Good art should make you feel something - it doesn't matter what. This series of paintings by Luke Chueh really makes you run the gamut of emotional knee jerkery. Clever, sad, disturbing, poignant, smart, and did I mention sad?
Paintings of Hope and Hopelessness


Shopping Under the Influence

If I may impart some wisdom to you right now it is this:
Do not indulge in online shopping when you are high on valium.

I had a difficult day, resulting in the consumption of aforementioned valium. The result was an online spending-spree involving the purchase of many retro shirts covered in birds and butterflies. I have no idea what sort of fashion atrocities I am about to commit. But in my present state, I find images of butterflies, rainbows and birds irrationally comforting. Is that so wrong?

It might be. When you see me in my green butterfly shirt, try not to judge me too harshly.

If I look fantastic, go get your own shirt: Frecklewonder.com


The Crazy Dog Lady

My dog is controlling my life and everybody knows it. They all think I’m crazy, but I don’t care.

Here is my logic: I do not have children. If I did, I would be less likely to think there was a person trapped inside my pet and treat her accordingly. If there was a human child in my life, I would be too busy to anthropomorphize my dog.

I am an unmarried, childless adult, and as a woman, I am hard-wired to want to nurture something. What a lucky dog I have, that she is the recipient of every ounce of mothering I possess. This means daily walks, gourmet dog food, doggie day care and a fierce reluctance to leave her alone for more than an hour. This translates as me spending exorbitant amounts of cash on her, staying home nights to be with her, and many dedicated hours of wrestling on the rug.

That’s a lot of effort poured into something barely the size of a human head. Cooper is 8 pounds of spotted pink flesh and chaotic, wiry hair. She suffered from mange as a puppy and never recovered her hair fully, leaving it sparse on her head, and completely naked on her chest. She has the appearance of an expensive jacket that was left in the dryer too long, shrunken and disheveled. Once, I passed a woman at the dog park who said to me, with slight distaste, “What IS that?”

To say that she is energetic is a ridiculous understatement. Imagine a manic, woolly, gremlin hurling itself at you as it frantically tries to stick its tongue up your nose. Imagine a small blur of black and white fuzz as it gleefully chases a ball for the thousandth time. But also imagine an intelligent and perceptive beast, who peers into you with the most guileless brown eyes you have ever seen. That’s Cooper.

When we walk down the street together, people stare at her. She inspires squeals of delight from children, and soft cooing from grown women. I’ve heard teenage miscreants marveling at how fast she runs, and tough looking men in leather jackets talk to her like a baby as they scratch her ears. Nearly everyone smiles when they spot her trotting along by my feet (or yanking me defiantly down the sidewalk). She, in turn, welcomes everyone equally, eagerly, with an unrestrained joy that is hard to resist. I have seen Cooper turn a scowl into a grin on dozens of faces.

If she were a human child, she would be the kind of kid who shaves her head and joins a band, but still wants to please her parents. She would sneak out of her room at night to hang with her friends, only to confess in the morning. I would catch her smoking, but not be able to bring myself to punish her when she starts crying. That’s the kind of kid she would be.

But she’s not a kid, she’s a dog, and aside from myself, she’s the only responsibility I have. That is how I justify treating her like a human being. If, in my life, she is the only creature that ever depends and relies on me, I damn well better do it right. However small and simple, that dog gives my life an added sense of purpose.

When you’re a kid, you hear the tale of the crazy cat lady, a mousy old spinster who prefers the company of animals to human beings. So what if I’ve become the crazy dog lady? So what if my friends roll their eyes when I announce that I cannot go to dinner, because Cooper needs company? At the end of the day, what makes me happy is knowing I did the best I could for my small family of two.

Mushroom at Large

A couple of years ago, I had a particularly bad day. The kind that makes you feel like you have a hive of angry bees in your chest. Like your head is a helium balloon, headed for a ceiling of spikes. That kind of day.

I needed to get out of the house, so I decided to do what I refer to as “driving therapy.” I got in my car, put on some music to match my mood, and started driving. I had not been living in my neighborhood for very long, and it calmed me to explore the unfamiliar streets and houses.

There might have been some primal scream therapy involved, or perhaps some tears were shed as I pounded the steering wheel of my car with an indignant fist. Still, I am a safe driver, and I cruised slowly up and down the streets, wearing my safety belt.

Turning a corner, I saw something that made me stop. It was nothing extraordinary, but it gave me a sudden sense of wellness. There was a house on a corner lot, with many old trees in the yard, putting it in shadow. It looked particularly wooded and rustic, the kind of house a hobbit might live in, or a hippy. And there, sitting on the front edge of the yard, right in the corner, was a giant mushroom.

The mushroom, carved entirely out of wood, stood about 3 feet tall and was polished to a high sheen. It sat sparkling in a little divot in the ground, where it had clearly stood for many years. The wood reminded me of those old driftwood coffee tables that were popular in the 70s. It immediately conjured memories of some elf-populated, fairy-ridden, flower-strewn, secret magic dominion of my childhood dreams. I was charmed.

I pulled over and sat staring at it for a minute or two, admiring the knots and swirls of the dark wood. It made me feel much, much better.

Several months later, I was walking around with some friends on that same street, and we came upon the mushroom again. By now, I had passed it many times during morning walks with my dog, Cooper, and it had become a familiar landmark. This time, the people living there were having a yard sale.

“How much for the mushroom?” I joked. I spoke with a young woman with long, dark hair, wearing hippy-ish clothes. She explained that it was her parents’ house, that her brother had hand-crafted the mushroom, and that many people had offered to buy it throughout the years. Obviously, it was not for sale. We chatted amicably for a few moments before my friends and I walked on.

A couple of weeks ago, my dog and I were on our morning walk. As we drew near the now-familiar house, I saw that something was terribly wrong. The mushroom was gone. In its place stood a sign reading: “Please help find our mushroom. 619-925-2611.”

Somebody stole it. It was bound to happen. You can’t leave a thing of magic out in the open forever. Someone is bound to feel a greedy and corrupt desire to possess it for themselves.

I wanted to go on a man-hunt. I had a hero’s impulse to find the mushroom and return it to its rightful place, not resting until it was recovered and placed gingerly back into the now-empty hollow where it existed for so long. My head swam with images of young hoodlums, sitting around the mushroom as it sat awkwardly in their crack den, surrounded by smoke and empty beer cans. It made me very sad.

I continued walking with Cooper, feeling a little less chipper, wanting to tell the mushroom people how sorry I was for their loss.

I like to think the mushroom is now on a journey. Perhaps it was tired of sitting in one place for so long, and would magically return when it had its fill of sight-seeing. Or maybe the people who stole it would suffer a series of terrible karmic events, forcing them to believe they were being punished for their error in judgment, and would bring it home just to break the curse.

Most likely, it is lost forever. Damnit. I really liked that thing.


The Death of a Dream

Music has always been my one great love. I never fantasized about marriage or kids – that would have been too easy. My daydreams were always limited to visions of rock stardom and large amounts of wealth. I believed my band and I would write sweeping, epic masterpieces and tour the world performing them. I would have a giant house, and buy giant houses for every member of my family. I would meet fascinating people, and they would find me fascinating. I would become that elusive, magical thing that I heard in every piece of music I loved. From the age of 8, that was the only thing my heart desired.

In retrospect, it’s possible to see how the dream was lost from the beginning. For one thing, I didn’t even like my own music. (My mom did, that seemed like enough.) For another, I hate performing live. I have the worst stage fright known to man, and shake like a Chihuahua when you put me in front of an audience. What kind of masochist wants to be a rock star when they hate being the center of attention? When I break it down, what was it exactly that I wanted?

Growing up, I was obsessed with the radio. My clock radio/cassette recorder and I spent many long hours together, me waiting breathlessly with my finger on the “record” button so I could capture my favorite song when it came on. When the song did finally enter my ears, I was transfixed and elated – I felt joined with something much bigger than myself. It was this feeling that drove me to dream so hard, not the love of performing. I wanted to become that feeling, for it to be permanently fixed in my heart and mind. Believing anything outside of myself would make this possible was perhaps my first mistake.

When it finally dawned on me that my life-long dream of becoming a famous songwriter was not going to come to fruition, I went to bed. Not for the night, but for 3 weeks. I was heartbroken. All around me I saw people succeeding with their music, and it made me miserable. Why couldn’t I have my dream when it seemed to happen to people all the time?

Later on I would tell my therapist that I equated music with God. Somewhere in my 8-year-old mind, I connected my musical heros with that great mysterious power. Call it God, or divinity or whatever, but that is what I was pining for all along.

I think this is true of everyone. Whether your prevailing desire is love, success, money or fame, the underlying hunger is to be deeply connected with something. Regardless of life’s circumstances, this connection is possible. The trick is that it isn’t something you can chase after. What’s the point in chasing something that is with you all along?

So the dream is forced to take new shape, and the path becomes something a little more obscure. For some people it’s religion or meditation. For others it’s immersion in a hobby or a sport. For me, my great joy (and still sometimes sorrow) remains music. Whatever the thing that brings stillness or awareness to your mind, the ultimate goal is complete acceptance of every waking moment.

I’ve since accepted that it was not my fate to become a rock star, or to be obscenely wealthy. Instead, my fortune is a series of small revelations in the department of personal evolution. Instead of the trappings of fame and fortune, I have managed to gain some wisdom. And if wisdom leads me to a greater peace and happiness, then absolutely nothing has been lost.


Checkered Taxi?

I am a musician, and I shamelessly want people to like my music. But if I have to try and start one more band or pass out one more flyer, I am going to hang myself.

Two years ago I recorded a CD with very high hopes. Anyone who has ever tried to promote their own music knows what a frustrating endeavor it can be. And if you have a strong distaste for rejection, you are going to become discouraged very fast. In my case, that is exactly what happened.

Once my CD was complete, I naively thought all I had to do was move to Los Angeles, form a band, play some shows, develop a following, and attract label attention. The rest would be history. So that’s what I did. But my band mates needed to be paid, the venues were disappointed in our small draw, CDs weren't selling and I was running out of money fast. It didn't help that I was getting a parking ticket every other day.

Call it a lack of perseverance, but after a year in LA "chasing my dream" I threw in the towel. There's nothing like following your bliss to make you really depressed. Feeling defeated, I moved back to San Diego.

I thought, 'there has got to be an easier way to do this'. This line of thinking led me to find Taxi, "The World's Leading Independent A&R Company." I was skeptical, but it didn't take much convincing.

I went to their website and read the listings placed by major labels, program directors and management companies:

"Amazingly talented SINGER-SONGWRITERS are being sought by the Program Director of a remarkably influential L.A. radio station..."

"SINGER-SONGWRITER/AAA ARTISTS are wanted by an LA-based Management Firm. They want to find talented artists ready to be shopped to indie/major labels."

At least a dozen of them were looking for me exactly. ME! I read the 'success' stories with hope in my heart. Bands getting signed, musicians getting publishing deals, songs placed in TV and Film. Drooling a little I thought, oh, they’d totally play my music on “House”. This should be a piece of cake. I'll go back to my day job. Hey Taxi, let me know when I can put in my two-weeks notice, I'll be ready.

So I paid the membership fee and started submitting my songs to these listings. I was furious to find out that not only did I have to pay for my membership, but then I had to fork over five whopping dollars for EVERY song I submitted. And if I wanted to submit online, I had to go to Broadjam.com and pay yet again to have my music hosted.

With Dawson's Creek in my peripheral, I sighed, accepted, and got out my credit card. At the very least, I thought, it will be nice to get the reviews from industry professionals.

The first time my music was "returned" (read: REJECTED), I cried. Proof, I thought, that my music just wasn't good enough. The accompanying review read roughly like this:
"The lyrics are too vague."

"You aren't giving the listener enough detail to really draw them in to the song."

"The harmonic progressions and the melodic choices at times are awkward and interrupt the song flow."

"Be careful about trying to be too heady musically."

Then came the anger. Who are these effing people anyway? I'm an ARTIST! They obviously know nothing about my ART! I learned right away that these "screeners" were not my friends.

And then I got my first "forward". It read roughly like this:
"Your vocal here Rachel is strong, engaging, seductive and haunting...all at the same time."

"Nice effort. Specifics in the verse lyrics really do create a nice sense of imagery."

"For the right situation or project, these songs can be a nice fit. It's a forward!"

Wait, maybe these folks aren't so bad after all? But then I was returned again, then forwarded, then returned. I grew a thicker skin, and waited for my reward. It never came.

It has been almost two years since I joined Taxi, and I have been forwarded about 20 times. Each time I'm forwarded, I have a rekindled hope for my floundering dream. Every time I read: “Congratulations Rachel! Your songs were forwarded to..." I still get excited. But a little less every time.

The last time I was forwarded I decided to contact the label. I know this is frowned upon, but I was starting to feel very suspicious. How come I haven't received a single phone call from these supposed "forwards"?

I contacted this particular label. I sent them a little note saying something like, "Hey, my music was just forwarded to you via Taxi, I hope to hear from you."

I got a note back that gave me the impression that they had not even solicited Taxi for artists, and that additionally my music was "not really what we are looking for."

The little wheels in my head starting turning. Are my "forwards" really being heard by anyone? Am I being scammed by Taxi?

So I sent Taxi a letter that said, in so many words, what the hell is the deal?

A couple weeks later, and to my surprise, I got a letter from Michael Laskow, president and CEO of Taxi. In it, he gave me a brief explanation of the forwarding process, the time it takes and the many levels of people involved. He said, "But I admit, that from the member's perspective (and that's the only one that counts), it looks like we're not forwarding your material." Yeah, it does look like that.

But the letter was enough, in my mind, to effectively exonerate Taxi of any foul play. The letter concluded by inviting me to Taxi headquarters to investigate for myself. No computer, filing cabinet or database, I was told, would be off limits to me.

Hey, that's pretty cool, I thought. But I believed him enough and was relatively satisfied by his explanation.

Then I read, "you can write about it for our newsletter." Because I like writing and road trips, I agreed to go. Besides, maybe there was something fishy going on. I told everyone I was going to LA to do some 'investigative journalism."

So I called Taxi, and Michael was on the phone within 30 seconds. The first thing I noticed about Michael is that he is well suited for his job. By that I mean he is charming and personable. I liked him right away. He made sure that I understood he was a family guy, and that he was on his way to a theme park with his kids. This made me suspicious. Only people with an agenda are this nice.

We agreed to meet the following Friday.

A nice woman from Taxi named Tina arranged for me and a friend of mine to stay at the local Marriot. My friend, Carly, and I drove up from San Diego late Thursday night, then drove to Taxi’s headquarters the next day.

We met Michael outside. He was smoking a cigarette, which is a great bonding agent, as it allows you to discuss the evils of smoking from one addict to another. We shook hands, smoked and chatted about quitting smoking. Then I put on my 'representing the starving artist' hat.

I told him how much it sucked to pay a membership fee only to get a negative critique from some nameless screener who maybe used to manage a hair metal band in the 80’s. OK, I didn't say that exactly, but that's what I meant. Michael understood, and he wanted me to understand that Taxi was not the bad guy, that they were working FOR the musician, not against them. This was the whole reason I was there. Apparently a lot of complaints similar to mine had cropped up recently, and he wanted me to see the truth and spread the gospel.

Michael led Carly and I into a tidy brick building full of different businesses. My first impression of the Taxi offices was that they were nice - professional and clean, with just the right amount of rock-inspired art. It's hip, but not too hip, with the kind of clutter that says, "People work here." Nothing too fancy, but certainly not the bare-bulbs warehouse I had sometimes imagined. My second impression was that I did not get the creepy, 'this is a scam' vibe that I get when I meet a telemarketer. Everybody was nice, everybody was working, and nobody seemed “prepped” in anticipation of our arrival.

As we walked through the different rooms, Michael explained their function.
"The is the meeting room, this is the receiving room, this is the listening room." The listening room impressed me the most. It is a large room featuring a library-style row of about 20 listening stations. Several people sat in the stations, wearing headphones and jotting down little notes. If you go online to http://www.taxi.com/abouts/webcam.html you can actually see it for yourself on the "Live A&R Cam." Have no doubt; people ARE listening to your music.

But what are their qualifications? What makes these people eligible to decide if my music is going to the next level? I asked Michael, and he told me basically that not just anyone can be a screener. They have to have real "industry" experience, whether it's songwriting, producing, engineering or managing. And those that do qualify go through a rigorous training and screening process themselves. This training teaches the screener what to listen for, and what they are often listening for is the catchy song formula. Well no wonder, I thought. I don't write songs for their catchiness, I write them for their moodiness. This gave me much food for thought.

Indeed, nothing was off limits to us, and we could clearly see what looks like a legitimate operation in progress. People hustled about, doing their various jobs. Michael introduced us to many people, including a guy named Chris Baptiste, who has been with Taxi for eight years, and is currently Sr. Director of A&R. Clint McBay who is also a Sr. Director A&R joined us as well.

Chris, Michael and occasionally Clint sat with us for more than two hours, explaining in great detail the ins and outs of the entire process. We learned about everything from the listings database to the mailroom. I saw first-hand the way the listings come in, and the way they are sent to the screeners, complete with special instructions that say stuff like, "they are looking for a polished act," or "Music library wants radio-friendly ballads," or "No crap." By "no crap" they mean, be very selective. Some clients will say, "Let us hear it all. We want to find that gem in the rough." And then they are irritated to find themselves having to sift through the, uh, crap. That is why submissions are screened so rigorously.

One thing that was made very clear to us is just WHY it takes so long to hear from a label or publisher after it's been forwarded. Initially, it's because it can take up to a week of processing after you've been notified for the to be sent. There’s a lot more to that process than you think.

After that it comes down to something very simple: people in the music industry are busy. Nobody has time to waste. I get the distinct impression that these people don't even call their own mothers, let alone some songwriter who they may or may not be interested in. Simply stated, if you've been forwarded by Taxi, smile and forget about it. Not because it isn't going where they said it would, or because it won't be just what they were looking for. But because after your music leaves Taxi's hands it goes through a brand new process entirely, where it can very well sit in somebody's in-box for a year before it's listened to. And if they're not interested, you simply won't hear from them at all. So, seriously, let it go.

OK, let’s say you can’t let it go. It’s perfectly natural. So you contact the label and they have no idea what you’re talking about. That’s probably because the person you’re talking to is not the one who placed the listing. But now you’re pissed off and feeling swindled. So you contact them again and ask to speak to the person in charge. But they won’t call you back (because, like I said, these guys have no sense of urgency to return phone calls.) So now you’re really freaking out. You’re thinking, “My very future is in their hands and I must KNOW what’s GOING ON! Are they gonna sign me OR WHAT?!?” So you call again. And again. Apparently this happens all the time. Eventually, the person who placed the listing calls up Taxi and says, “We’re not running listings with you anymore. Your members are crazy.” I guess what I’m saying is that it just isn’t productive to contact these companies. For your own peace of mind, take up knitting or soccer and keep your mind in the present moment. Learn to trust that your music was delivered where it’s supposed to and let them come to you. I liken this situation to meeting someone you really like. Nobody wants to date a stalker.

When it was all said and done, I found that I'd had a good time. I left with a positive feeling, if only because I got to meet some very genuine people. The agenda I had imagined Michael would have was only to show me that, "We are not the enemy. We do what we say we do." And they do.

I think a lot of people are at the end of their dream by the time they get to Taxi. They are looking for that one last push after an endless stream of fruitless efforts. It can make the world feel like a very vicious and unwelcoming place. Once you've reached that point, it's easy to find evidence that the entire world is out to get you. The most important thing to remember is that there are a million avenues toward success. Do not think that Taxi is the only way, and give them the power to single-handedly crush your dream. Even in my advanced state of bitterness, I still believe there is a home out there for my music.

The bottom line is this:
Is Taxi legit? YES. But don't expect to get your money back if they don't think your music is ready for human consumption. Sometimes what you are paying for is just the critique (and two tickets to Taxi’s yearly convention). It IS possible to grow as a songwriter with Taxi's help, if you truly absorb and apply the reoccurring theme in their critiques. And I bet, for some people, that alone is worth the membership fee. It can be hard to accept, though, when you've worked hard at something, only to be told that it should have been done differently. If you are looking for validation that you are a musical genius, you are not going to get it from Taxi. Call your mother for that.

Will Taxi make you a rock star? It could happen. Will it earn you a royalty check? Maybe. But your chances of getting one as an experimental math-rock band are far less than if you're a spit-polished pop songwriter. But, as Michael said, even so-called 'alternative' bands have used the catchy song formula. You can be artsy or edgy and still be catchy. Regardless of the kind of music you play, if it's memorable, it can potentially put money in your pocket. If you're like me, you'll say, "This isn't about money. I'm an ARTIST!" Don't let anyone tell you otherwise, the music business is about money, not art.

The fact remains that if you want to succeed with your music (and by succeed I mean make money), you probably still have some flyers to pass out. There is no substitute for hard work, determination and real-world interaction (as opposed to sitting in front of the computer all day like I do, waiting for the email that will change your life).

As for me, I won't be quitting my day job any time soon.

Getting Over Getting Over It

There comes a time after every breakup, when you learn that the other person has started dating someone else. Unless the person you were formerly dating becomes a monk, this fact is practically inevitable.

So it should have come as no surprise to me when I learned that my recent ex-boyfriend had a new lady friend. I knew on some level that this would happen, but I was not prepared for the way it would make me feel. This person, who had shared his love and affection only with me, was now sharing it with somebody else.

This is a marvelous way to discover just how human you are. I don’t know what made me think that I was above jealousy, but it turns out I am not. When I heard the news that my ex was ‘seeing’ someone, I suddenly understood the term “jealous rage”. This rage manifested as a long bout of crying, followed by a frenzied attempt to distract myself with other things.

In the process of trying to distract myself, I was introduced to the friend of a friend. Where I could not fathom the idea of dating just a few short weeks earlier, I was suddenly open to the idea of meeting someone new. Discovering, after such a short time, that my ex had already “moved on” was the equivalent of shooting me out of a canon into the dating world. Oh, he’s dating? Fine, I’m dating too.

What I was not prepared for was the possibility that I would meet someone I really liked, and that things would progress at warp speed and land me square in the lap of yet another relationship. I’m not sure if this is good or bad.

On the one hand, it’s great; how can I complain about being in those dreamy early stages with someone, where everything is exciting and new? On the other hand, I probably could have benefited from a few months, or even years, by myself. Just as I was settling in for the long haul of single life, here comes Mr. Wonderful.

If there is one thing I have learned during all of this, it’s that people can absolutely not be replaced. I imagined that when I found someone new, I’d be blissfully ensconced in the prospect of new love, and that would be a panacea. Instead, I’ve discovered that there is no avoiding those relationship wounds that are still so fresh. New man or not, I still have to deal with some very scary emotions, and mourn the life that I knew.

So I find myself between two worlds; the shiny, new one and the old, comfortable one that I still miss. I often compare these worlds to each other, and wonder if I’m doing the right thing. Is it too soon for new love? Did I make mistakes with the old one? Do I need to spend a year alone? I don’t know. I can slap a bunch of labels on my situation and drive myself to misery, or I can embrace this life without reserve. The most interesting part is that happiness can scare you every bit as much as sadness. So what’s the point in struggling against any of it? The best thing I can remind myself is to “be here now.”

So the challenge is to stay in the present moment, and accept that things are unfolding exactly as they should be. Perhaps I will discover something completely unexpected – a happiness independent of any person or situation. One I can take with me anywhere.

Mission to the Void

My boyfriend and I recently broke up. We lived together in a big, beautiful house on a corner, near a park. Together we rescued a puppy, got ourselves a propane grill and enjoyed many hours of pay per view movies on his big screen TV. We shared all the comforts of life for four years.

Ultimately, we agreed that we were mismatched. It was the usual things – I’m a bad housekeeper, he is a republican, I am a dreamer, he is a realist, etc. So we called it quits. He bought a house and moved out. The dog and I stayed in the big, empty rental we shared until I found a tiny condo to live in.

The day I picked up the last of our debris and left the house empty was a very, very hard day. I stood in the kitchen, staring at the dust balls of our shared life, and cried. Not just a few tears, but all of them. I cried the way people cry at funerals, until my eyes were swollen and my head ached.

I cried because I couldn’t watch Oprah on his big screen TV, because my dog would no longer have a yard, because there was no one to ask “what’s for dinner?,’ and because I missed him. During moments like that, I find it impossible to remember exactly why we broke up. I tried to conjure up the feeling of irritation I get when he’s being annoying, but all I could feel was loss.

Breaking up is just not fun. It’s a death of sorts – the death of that enigmatic entity called “The Relationship”. But people break up every day - it’s not a tragedy. So why does it feel like one?

I once read that if you can conquer loneliness, you can conquer anything. As I unpack my belongings and try to squeeze them into my tiny condo, I begin to understand my mission, and accept it. The object of this mission is to become friends with that awful, aching feeling of being alone.

People stay in bad relationships for years to avoid this feeling. It’s like staring into a dark and endless abyss. You look into your own future and all you can see is a lifetime of Saturday nights reading, and people telling you to “join a club”.

I told a friend recently that I wanted to fall in love – with myself, so that I would never need another person to make me happy. That isn’t going to happen. Unfortunately, I’m a human being, and I’m never going to get over my desire to connect with other humans. But I can stop averting my eyes every time I feel empty. I can look directly into the void and see what it is I’ve been hiding from all these years. It’s like a mysterious old closet, piled high with the ghosts of everything I ever tried to avoid.

Here, with life stripped of all familiar distractions, is a beautiful opportunity to look into the face of the void, and make it a place of refuge. It’s a chance to be comfortable in silence, and know myself. I suspect that was the mission all along.

To Breed or Not to Breed

By my age, most people are married, or at least have a solid divorce under their belt. They also usually have children, mortgage payments and at least one good suit.

I am 34 and none of these things apply to me. It’s as if my adulthood has been indefinitely postponed, except for the fact that my body is starting to wear gravity like a light shawl, pulling on me gently. Before long it will be on me like a heavy winter jacket.

There are times when I feel bad for not having these “adult” things. Not because I want to have kids, or that I even need a good suit, but because I feel that I SHOULD. Wouldn’t it be more acceptable to have the trappings of family life by now? Toddlers that will grow up to be trusted companions? A 401K plan? A husband? Yeah, it’d be nice.

Or would it? When I was growing up, the only examples of family life I ever saw included a lot of unhappy adults who felt trapped. This is the model on which I base my life. Commit to nothing and you will never be stuck in a bad marriage or disappointed by divorce. You will never be that red-haired woman sitting at my parents’ kitchen table, crying after signing her divorce papers. I must have been about 10 or so when this friend of the family came over to share the news with us. She was smoking a cigarette, and when she leaned over to put her face in her hands, she singed a bit of her red hair. When I think about marriage, I don’t see a blissful union between two people. I see her.

As for having children, I am torn. I like the idea of having grown kids who bring their friends and spouses over, who fill the house with life and activity. But that’s the problem – I imagine grown kids, not little kids. When I think of small children, I imagine restless and shrieking animals who demand attention, and then later, money. As a kid myself, I never daydreamed about having my own family, or played with baby dolls while fantasizing about motherhood. To this day, I have trouble picturing it. And as for that “ticking biological clock” thing, I don’t hear it. Not even the slightest tick.

Sure, sometimes I see happy families portrayed on TV and feel a slight pull. And I know my ovaries have an expiration date on them, so if I’m going to spawn, I’d better do it soon. But that strong desire just isn’t there. Shouldn’t kids be something you desperately want, or even need?

I do think about adoption. There are plenty of kids who need a loving home already, without me filling the planet with more of my own. This idea appeals to me quite a bit more. But as it stands right now, I’m just not ready.

My mother says you are never “ready” for children. She also says it’s best to have them when you’re young, and still too na├»ve to understand all the myriad ways you can screw a child up. Having children at a young age also means you still have that exuberant, youthful energy it takes to chase them around. Seeing as I’ve never had a whole lot of energy, even as a youngster, that’s one more strike against me as a future parent.

Another strike against me is this telling fact: children, more often than not, really annoy me. I’m told that it’s different when they’re yours, that you’ll love them because they are a part of you. But when I go to the park and a half a dozen kids start chasing my dog while shouting and grabbing for her tail, it makes me wonder if I am completely unsuited for parenthood.

I can see my 80 year old grandmother, wringing her hands and making that “tsk tsk” sound she makes when she disapproves of something. I see her clutching her chest, groaning, “Oy,” as she imagines her granddaughter as a barren old maid. But I am not daunted by those outdated views. There are times when I feel the pressure to catch up to my married and pregnant peers, thinking “What a sad, grown woman I am, single and childless.” But then I look around. I know just as many people my age who are un-tethered, and make no apologies for it. It seems, as the generations evolve, that more and more people are choosing not to have children.

I recently read an article in a feminist magazine about childlessness as a sort of “movement”. Many women are angry and feel stigmatized by society for not being a parent. There is a sense that they have to “explain” their childless status to a society who looks upon them with judgment or pity. These women firmly embrace their decision and want the world to accept it, too. It made me realize that there are a lot of women choosing not to procreate, and that it’s ok.

Understand, I am not a baby-hater. I think being a mother is one of the great, noble callings in life. The only thing that makes me feel regret, is that I might not get to experience the true selflessness of being a parent. I worry that I won’t mature to full capacity, or that I will become increasingly selfish. But these reasons alone are not enough to inspire me to run out and find a donor.

I am open to the possibility that one day I will hear the ticking of the proverbial “biological clock.” If that happens, I will embrace the idea of raising a family of my own. For now, I pour all those unused nurturing instincts into my 9-pound dog and feel content.

narcissistic rambling

Due to the lack of Switchyard news, I have decided to use this blog as a resting home for various ramblings, articles and random photos. It will keep me off the streets.