Category Archives: Muses

The Best of the Best Writing Tips: #3. Burn Pendants in Pale Fire.

One of my favorite quotes from any writer, ever, is this one by Vladimir Nabokov:

“Burn pendants in pale fire. Accept no fashions. Be your own fashion. Do not rely on earlier triumphs. Be new at each appearance.”

I don’t even know where to start.

Of course, this is darn-tooting good advice for writers. Come to think of it, it’s perfect for anything.

But let’s stick to writing for now. In my daily job, it’s easy for me to get sucked into a routine in the style of my writing. Recently, I was writing a press release, about an annual event. I took a look at the previous year’s event to see what I had said. Maybe that was a mistake. I was tempted to simply update the language. Instead of using the word “iconic” to describe the hotel where this event would take place, I wanted to use “historic.” Instead of writing, “honor” the recipient of an award, “I wanted to write, “pay homage” for this year’s recipient.

Had Nabokov been in the room, he would have slapped my hands off of the keyboard and pushed me out of my chair. Actually, he may have asked me what was that contraption of a typewriter, but let’s save that for a story about time travel.

Think about the last time you read something that took your breath away with its power and beauty. It doesn’t happen often. As a writer, it’s damn hard to achieve.

Still. . . we have to try. We can’t fall into traps of go-to words and phrases, or updating last year’s press release, or speech, or whatever it might be. Actors who are doing remakes of  a movie will often say they did not watch the original version. They want to be fresh.

Look at your work. Notice the similarities, notice your habits. Now kill them.

Then there are these two gems from Nabokov’s quote: Accept your own fashions. Be your own fashion.

This is a mistake young writer’s make; well, it’s a mistake I made as a young writer. I would read Eudora Welty and sit down and try to write in a way that made me feel like her writing had made me feel. Too often, I ended up being a bad copy of the great writer.

Writing isn’t easy, whether you are writing fiction, or an article, or a business letter. If it were easy, the world would be full of Nabokovs. Like a fingerprint,  a writer’s voice is unique from any  one else. Find your style, then be your own fashion, and be new at each appearance.

If we can somehow manage all the good advice found in Nabokov’s quote, then we’re doing okay.

My Week with Bruce: part 4

Spending my Honeymoon with the Boss

Bruce lookin 2The words I am about to write may come back to haunt me. I might jinx myself, yet. . . it’s something to brag about if you are a proud member of E Street Nation. Here goes: every single time I have tried to get into the pit, I’ve succeeded. Maybe Greg is my lucky charm; he, too, is batting 100% and has been to a couple of shows without me.

Bruce say it

If Springsteen recognizes me as a frequent fan at his West Coast shows, he probably thinks of me as the annoying petite blonde who is always grabbing at him. At his shows, I’m the real life version of the grasping hands some people have in nightmares.

Bruce Feet

I’m standing behind his ankles in this shot. What you don’t see is that just seconds earlier, I reached out and touched the back of his shins. Yeah. I know. I know. By the way, his jeans were soaked through. That’s how hard he performs–and it was only the third song of the night.

Because Glendale, AZ was the last show of the US leg of his 2012, I saw some old friends– a lot of the Springsteen faithful had travelled from the East Coast. There was much talk in the pit of Sandy (the horrible storm, not the song), the band’s lineup on this tour, highlights from the tour . . . and something else. I kept running into hardcore fans who talked of other fans, fans more hardcore than they. It seems to be a thing at Springsteen shows. Who is the most hardcore? No one is bold enough to claim the title, but I met a number of people who all knew other people who fit the bill. Springsteen fans, if nothing else, are generous to their brothers and sisters.


Why am I talking so much about the fans in this recap? Because after seeing Springsteen for countless shows, and talking the usual talk about the joy his concert brings, what the songs have meant to me over the years, how this is the music that matters most, or what a great performance the concert was, this show really hit home with me on one fact: the fans are part of the magic that happens at a Springsteen concert. I said I saw old friends there. They were people I met at other Springsteen shows, either in the pit, or in a bar after the show, or in line for the show, or at the concession stand. . . you get the idea. A couple of them were names I had learned (and remembered) and a couple of them were just people you talk to briefly, but have an immediate and strong connection with over Springsteen. When you go to the shows a lot, you see the same faces over and over.

FULL Band ArizonaAs for the actual show, it was magic and joy. What can I tell you that you haven’t read in another review? Every show that Springsteen puts on is amazing. It is better than anything anyone else can do. He was put on this earth to sing these songs and give turbo-charged performances.

A few notes: Clarence’s son Jared came out on the stage during “Tenth Avenue Freezeout.” Some stupid girl jumped on the ramp where Springsteen stood during the tribute and he had to shew her off the stage. She violated the unspoken code. Springsteen fans may grab at him (guilty!) but we never jump on the stage unless invited, and we never jump on the stage during a tribute to Clarence. It nearly ruined the poignancy of the moment for Jared, Clarence’s son. At the end of the song, Jake gave him a big hug, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the pit.

Here’s the setlist of that magical, last evening. See you in 2013, Springsteen. Hopefully, I’ll be the girl in the pit grabbing (respectfully) at your ankles.

1.Surpise, Surprise (acoustic, tour premiere)
2. No Surrender
3. I’m A Rocker
4. Hungry Heart
5. Prove It All Night (with 1978 Intro)
6. Trapped
7. Lost In The Flood
8. We Take Care Of Our Own
9. Wrecking Ball
10. Death To My Hometown
11. My City Of Ruins
12. Be True (sign request)
13. Light Of Day (sign request)
14. Darlington County
15. Shackled And Drawn
16. Waitin’ On A Sunny Day
17. Apollo Medley (dedicated to Sam Moore; Sam sings a few lines of the song)
18. The Rising
19. Badlands
20. Thunder Road

Encores:
21. Incident On 57th Street (solo piano)
22. Born To Run
23. Dancing in the Dark
24. Santa Claus is Coming to Town (with Garland Jeffreys)
*25. Tenth Avenue Freeze-out (with Clarence Clemons’ son Jared on percussion)

My Week with Bruce, part 2

Angry White Men?

ImageIf you had asked me right after Springsteen’s December 6th Anaheim show to sum up the performance in one word, I would have said “exuberant.” Then I read the reviews the next morning, and everyone was talking about how “angry” the show was. The reviews I read attributed it to Tom Morello and Mike Ness, the guest stars of the evening. The guys gave added energy to the aging E Street Band, but their very presence, according to these reviews, left us with a more angry Springsteen, though it was a reference to the theme of the evening, not the actual emotion coming from the artist himself.

It wasn’t till I was in Phoenix and saw that show that I could see this more clearly. The joy I felt in Anaheim, was no doubt, the joy I felt seeing my favorite band, up close and personal in the pit. Still, I think it is a stretch to call the show angry, and to be honest, I really didn’t think in terms of a “theme” while I was watching the concert.

I see now, though, that you can’t have a show featuring “This Depression,” and “Ghost of Tom Joad,” much less one of my all-time favorites, “Adam Raised a Cain,” without feeling some anger slicing through the lyrics.

Then there were “Spirit in the Night,” and “E Street Shuffle.” Those are songs of Springsteen’s youth, and our youth. It’s easier to feel a bit grumpy now, whether it’s because we are beaten down by the economy or just beaten down by the years we’ve added to our lives. There has always been anger in Springsteen’s songs, which is one reason the faithful fans love him. He expresses the anger we feel when our lives have not gone as hoped. The other reason we love him, though, is the happiness and hope just at the perimeter of so many of those songs.

In fact, as mentioned in the last post, the show opened with “Land of Hope and Dreams.” Sure, it was a nod to Disneyland being down the street, but the song sort of sums up all the other songs and characters Springsteen has created. They are all about surviving in, or maybe escaping to, the place where dreams are made of.

Morello wasn’t just a guest. When the band walked out onstage, they walked out with him. No one was surprised that he was there, we were all a bit surprised to see him walk out like he was part of the band. This promptly started a rumor that if Steven or Nils, who are both getting on up there in the years, left the band, would Tommy join? Would Tommy replace Steven when the actor goes on to tape season 2 of Lillehammer? Really, I think it is nothing more than Morello performed on “Wrecking Ball,” so here they were in his hometown and it seemed only polite to bring him along for the ride.

If you want a blow-by-blow review of the show, read this one from Backstreets. If you want my review of the show, here’s what mattered to me: Bruce stopped right in front of us on the ramp and sang right to us four times. I touched his ankle and his calves, like a crazed fan would, I reveled in the feel of his drenched jeans, and I helped him as he crowd surfed over us. I helped Bruce Springsteen in a small way. Fitting, as his music has helped me numerous times.

Here’s the setlist, along with some of my commentary:

Land of Hope and Dreams (with Tom Morello)
Adam Raised a Cain
Streets of Fire–Yeah, maybe this was an angry show with this song following “Adam Raised a Cain.”
Hungry Heart —I touched Bruce and he sang right to me! Then he fell backwards on us to crowd surf. I held him by the ankle and looked up just to see his crotch right smack over my face. I resisted.
We Take Care of Our Own
Wrecking Ball
Death to My Hometown (with Tom Morello)
My City of Ruins
Spirit in the Night
The E Street Shuffle–It was great hearing this song
Long Time Coming (solo acoustic)–he chose this sign over our inspired, “Burning Love.” But evidently on this leg, unlike others, he was not doing covers. Ooops.
Reason to Believe
This Depression (with Tom Morello)
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Bad Luck (with Mike Ness)
Because the Night
Darlington County–Bruce said, “Road Trip,” and brought Nils out the ramp. Nils looked like he’d rather be anywhere else other than a thin strip of ramp where crazed fans (like me) could reach out and grab him. Poor Nils.
Shackled and Drawn
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day–The happy song that makes his fans angry, because not many of them like it…yet he keeps on singing it!
Raise Your Hand–More of me touching Bruce
The Ghost of Tom Joad (with Tom Morello)
Badlands (with Tom Morello)–My anthem. I loved that Tom  Morello played on this. It was just perfect.
Thunder Road
* * *
Jungleland
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town–He told everyone wearing Santa hats to get on the ramp and dance. They did.
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out (with Tom Morello)–I touched Bruce again and I think by this point, he was sick of my hands and considered me a pervert.

Highlights of Springsteen’s SxSW Keynote

With apologies to Backstreets, I’ve copied their highlights of Springsteen’s SxSW keynote in its entirety. I cannot find a written transcript of the speech, so this is the next best thing, and it includes the closing of the keynote, which may be the best closing paragraph of any keynote I’ve ever heard. You can watch his keynote here; Here are the written highlights, courtesy of Backstreets:

THE BADDEST ASS IN TOWN: BRUCE’S SXSW KEYNOTE
By GARY GRAFF / AUSTIN, TX
There was an audible — and mass — gasp of disappointment on Thursday afternoon in Austin when SXSW managing director Roland Swenson announced that Bruce Springsteen’s keynote speech would be done in an interview format. It wasn’t lack of respect for Dave Marsh, the eminent Springsteen authority, who’s more than up to the task. It was just that everyone was expecting… well, a speech. So there was relief when, with E Street Band members including Little Steven Van Zandt, Garry Tallent and Roy Bittan looking on, Springsteen strode onstage, in a blue shirt and dark jeans, with a sheaf of papers and a wide smile, asking why we were “up so fucking early? Every important musician in this town is asleep — or they will be by the time I finish this thing.” Hardly. Springsteen enraptured the packed ballroom at the Austin Convention Center with nearly 50 minutes of advice, anecdotes, reflections, and analysis, a fascinating and carefully constructed oral memoir that considered his career in the context of an event with some 13,000 registered attendees and 2,000 bands playing around town. Springsteen — who made a guest appearance at Wednesday’s Austin Music Awards and will be performing his own show Thursday night at ACL Live at the Moody Theater — also grabbed the acoustic during parts of the speech, connecting his doo-wop roots to “Backstreets” and The Animals’ “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” to “Badlands” (“It’s the same fucking riff!”). It was a speech full of genuine gems, but here are ten of our favorite moments from the keynote.

* No one really hardly agrees on anything in pop anymore. There is no keynote. There is no unified theory of everything. You can ask Einstein. You can pick any band — say, Kiss. You can go, “Early theater rock proponents expressing the true raging hormones of youth,” or, “They suck!” You can go, “Phish, inheritors of the Grateful Dead’s mantle, brilliant center of the true alternative community,” or, “They suck!” You go, “Bruce Springsteen, natural-born poetic genius off the streets of Monmouth County, hardest-working New Jerseyan in show business, voice of the common man, future of rock ‘n’ roll,” or… “He sucks! Get the fuck outta here!”

* So as the records that my music was initially released on give way to a cloud of ones and zeroes, and as I can carry my entire record collection since I was 13 in my breast pocket… the one thing that’s been constant over the years (is) the genesis and power of creativity, the power of the songwriter or the composer or, let’s say, the creator. So whether you’re making dance music, Americana, rap music, electronica, it’s all about how you’re putting what you do together. The elements you’re using don’t matter. Purity of human expression and experience is not confined to guitars, to tubes, to turntables, to microchips. There is no right way, no pure way of doing it. There’s just doing it.

* Remember, it wasn’t just the way Elvis looked. It was the way Elvis moved that made people crazy, pissed off, driven to screaming ecstasy and profane revulsion… When they made an attempt to censor him from the waist down, it was because of what you could see happening in his pants. Elvis was the first modern, 20th century man, he was a precursor of the sexual revolution, of the civil rights revolution, drawn from the same Memphis as Martin Luther King, creating fundamental outsider art that would be embraced by a mainstream popular culture. Television and Elvis gave us full access to a new language, a new form of communication, a new way of being, a new way of thinking about sex, about race, about identity, about life. A new way of being an American, a human being and a new way of hearing music…. Once he was heard and seen in action, you could not put the genie back in the bottle… there was yesterday, there was today, and there was a red-hot hot rockabilly forging of a new tomorrow before your eyes.

* Even before there was Elvis, my world had begun to be shaped by the little radio with the six-inch mono speaker on top of our refrigerator…. Between 8 and 8:30 every morning as I snowed sugar onto my Sugar Pops, the sounds of early pop and doo-wop whispered into my young and impressionable ears. Doo-wop, the most sensual music ever made, the sound of raw sex, of silk stockings rustling on backseat upholstery. The sound of the snaps of bras popping across the USA. Of wonderful lies being whispered into taboo perfumed ears. The sound of smeared lipsticks, untucked shirts, running mascara, tears on your pillow, secrets whispered into the still of the night, the high school bleachers and the dark of the YMCA canteen. The sound of your incredibly wonderful, limp your ass, blue-balled walk back home after the dance.

* Roy Orbison was the true master of the romantic apocalypse. He knew what was coming after the first night you whispered “I love you” to your new girlfriend. You were going down…. But he also sang that he’d be risen to the heights of near unexpressable bliss by these same very things that tortured him. Oh, cruel irony.

* The other thing that was great about the Animals was there were no good-looking members. There were none. They were considered one of the ugliest groups in rock ‘n’ roll… That was good for me, ’cause I considered myself hideous at the time… And they weren’t even nice. They didn’t curry favor. They were like aggression personified: “It’s my life and I’ll do what I want.” They were cruel, which was so freeing.

* Darkness was also informed by the punk explosion at the time. I went out and got the early punk records, “Anarchy…” and “God Save the Queen.” The Sex Pistols were so frightening. Literally, they shook the earth, which is different from shocking. A lot of groups manage shocking, but… there were very few rock groups that managed frightening. They were brave and they challenged you and they made you brave, and that energy seeped its way into the subtext of Darkness. Darkness was written in 1977, and all of that music was out there and if you had ears you could not ignore it. I had peers that did, and they were mistaken. You could not ignore that challenge.

* Woody [Guthrie]’s world was a world where fatalism was tempered by a practical idealism. It was a world where speaking truth to power wasn’t futile, whatever its outcome. Why do we continue to talk about Woody so many years on? He never had a hit, never went platinum, never played in an arena… But he’s a big ghost in the machine. I believe it’s because Woody’s songs… tried to answer Hank Williams’ question [about] why your bucket has a hole in it. That’s a question that’s eaten at me for a long time.”

* So rumble, young musicians, rumble. Open your ears and open your hearts. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and take yourself as seriously as death itself. Don’t worry. Worry your ass off. Have unclad confidence, but doubt. It keeps you awake and alert. Believe you are the baddest ass in town — and you suck! It keeps you honest. Be able to keep two completely contradictory ideals alive and well inside of your heart and head at all times. If it doesn’t drive you crazy, it will make you strong. And stay hard, stay hungry and stay alive. And when you walk on stage tonight to bring the noise, treat it like it’s all we have — and then remember it’s only rock ‘n’ roll.”

So Long to the King of the Universe

The past few days have been strange, beautiful, sad, and full of joy. I flew to my home state this weekend for a family reunion and I caught up with relatives I had not seen in 10, 20 and even 30 years. We had a wonderful time, and as I drove back to the charming little antebellum Bed and Breakfast where we stayed, I listened to Born to Run on CD in the car so that I could relive the full flavor of my youth. I once drove those same tired old streets, listening to the same Springsteen songs and hoping that one day I would go somewhere big and wonderful, somewhere that matched the life imagined in the vibrancy of the music that mattered to me most.

On Saturday night, after a wonderful evening with my family, a friend from LA called and asked if I’d heard the news. I had not. Clarence “Big Man” Clemons, The King of the Universe, the Big Kahuna, the Prince of the City, the Duke of Paducah, and the biggest f’ing man you’ll ever see, had died.

He didn’t write the words to Springsteen’s songs, but as one journalist, of the many who have written about Clarence’s death, said, he understood how to play the lyrics. It’s a careful choice of words. He gave the lyrics soul, and his notes blew right through the core of mine.

I know a lot of people who love music, but I know few people who have been truly touched by music the way Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have touched their hard core fans—the E Street Nation—of which I am a proud member. It may be the music that matters most to me, but the soul driver of that music has left this world.

There is a brief moment at all Springsteen shows, just before the stage lights go up, where the excitement of what is to come over the next two to three hours builds to a mountain so high, you need the help of a big man to pull you to the top. In fact, you need the Big Man. The band will go on, and Clarence will be remembered as a vital part of their history and legend. The E Street Band will remain the same earth-quaking, booty shaking, love-making, Viagra-taking, best little garage band you ever saw, but it will not quite be the same.

I think of future “Jungleland” performances. Clarence, with his sax, built the song to an operatic pitch; his music didn’t just punctuate the lyrics or the mood of the song. They embodied the emotion of the damaged world Springsteen had created, where wounded poets “just stand back and let it all be.” 

It’s hard for me to write about Clarence without making this about me. I’ve said many times that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were my first Life mentors. Their music reached through the airwaves of the 70s and grabbed this small-town Mississippi girl by the center of her soul and yanked her into a vibrant world of discontented characters with large hopes and a penchant for redemption. It was fitting, on a personal level, that Clemons passed away when I was in the land of my roots, the place where I became a faithful and loyal member of E Street Nation. I’m back in LA, but in my heart, I’m still in my hometown, driving through the streets at night, 17 again, with Jungleland playing, and I hear that mournful blue sax solo. Everything else fades away, except for the unforgettable sound of his notes.

“All Marketers Are Liars” is a Lie: Ask Seth

I need to get this off my chest. Marketing is not lying. Lying is lying and marketing is, in its simplest form, promoting a real event, product or service. There is a lot more that goes into that promotion, like blood, sweat and tears, but lying is not part of the mix. In fact, just ask any college marketing professor to name the entire marketing mix for you. Lying is not part of it.

Why am I ranting about this? Over time, I have deleted a few people from my Facebook profile page due to a simple little fact: they are telling lies, especially lies about their career all in the name of marketing and PR, to make them seem more successful. I love a good lie, don’t get me wrong. Tell me I look 21 and I will a) think you are lying and b) love you. No, I will worship you. Anyway, I noticed that as social media grew, so did the unfortunate side-effect of some people lying, and, worse, it was done under the guise of marketing. Normally, I would let sleeping dogs lie, literally, but when people start lying and then justify it by saying, “It’s just marketing,” then I have an issue, people. I’m a marketer, not a liar (unless you are going to bust me on age issues again).

Don’t believe me? Fine. Ask Seth Godin, who as any marketer knows (but liars may not) wrote “All Marketers are Liars.” See, he didn’t really mean it, because of this quote from the book: “When you are busy telling stories to people who want to hear them, you’ll be tempted to tell stories that just don’t hold up. Lies. Deceptions.”

I was reminded of this quote when I recently saw a friend who asked about a mutual friend. “It seems like things are going well, judging by the Facebook updates,” he said. Before I could even answer, he added, “Of course, if you can believe all that.” I told him that based on what I knew, he was right; this friend was doing a little fabricating. “How’s that working out?” he asked dryly, waiting a beat, then said, “Oh, I guess it’s not.”

More than an admonishment on lying, my message here is that the lies don’t hold up if you don’t have proof of the product, or the business, or the experience. People see through it, or worse, they believe you, then ask an innocent question following up on your Facebook update, and realize, “Huh, that was a lie.” People don’t like to be duped. A sucker is born every minute; a person scorned is reborn every second. And scorned consumers are the ones spending money on the competitor’s product or service. Not the liars.

Colors In Every Sense of the Word

Words have color. They can bleed red or be moody blue. Sometimes they are tinkled pink. Passive verbs are yellow-bellied cowards that are green with envy over their action counterparts. Don’t confuse that with Blue states passing Green laws or Red states turning blue in the face over healthcare reform.

Which reminds me, you have the green light to write that a red flag is a warning. We look into the night and we see black and are scared that Evil lurks. Angels wear white and represent purity, and not surprisingly, when we want to insult someone, we say that they are as bland as white bread.

Writers look into the universe and see a vast color scale and interpret it with words describing an emotional response, while marketers use both color and words to make a statement about their brand that connect it to our senses on a visceral level.

Color expresses words. Nike uses that orange swoosh mark in their logo, next to the words, “Just Do It.” It is no coincidence that orange represents energy and is a color that demands as much attention as the slogan’s command of “Just do it.“ Blue has somehow managed to become the color of technology. Think of “Big Blue,” IBM. Yet blue also suggests depression—or great jazz albums, like, “Kinda Blue.”

When I see blue, I feel a bit sad. It took me a while to figure out why, then I remembered that as a child, my aunt had a room that was painted an imperial blue. Her husband died when I was just two or three, and I barely remember him, but I remember how sad she naturally was after his death. She kept a cabinet in the room filled with his memorabilia, and to this day, I equate vibrant shades of blue with depression. Maybe that’s a subconscious reason for why I am Mac user instead of a PC. Apple is void of that blue, though if you look at the two brands websites, IBM is starting to look more like Apple’s site. That has less to do with any perception of blue, and more about Apple’s success, though.

We use our websites as visual representations of our brand. We ruminate on color, and try to pick ones that say something about us. This site, for example, for Snog yogurt uses colors that not only evoke sweetness, but fun.

Words and colors are connected to our senses. They are on each other like, dare I say it, white on rice. I have to quit typing now, my fingers are turning blue.