Friday, February 16, 2018

...the person we see in the mirror

These are some dark and difficult days to be a human in these United States. We can fill in the blank on any given day with the victims of the most recent mass shooting. We can argue politics and mental health, the causes and the hollow repetitive sentiments. And none of it brings us any closer to curing what ails us.

Our separation and our simultaneous sense of entitlement and powerlessness keep us from the world that could exist if we but understood and participated in our shared humanity.

A friend of mine who is a school teacher in Florida texted me yesterday – “we have forgotten who we are and why we are here.”

And I think that, in a nutshell, is what ails us.

Who are we? In the deepest recesses of our soul, in that answer, rests the future of the world.

Why are we here? In that answer, lies the portrait of our lives.

Our interconnectedness seems so obvious to me, and yet, it’s not to most people or we would not be okay with human suffering anywhere that it exists.

Who do we see when we look in the mirror? Do we respect that person? Do we love that person? Do we see the mighty and powerful when we gaze at ourselves? Do we see the capable and compassionate? Because to see anything less robs the world of what we have to offer.

Humility does not mean believing in our insignificance. That’s just a cowardly lack of personal responsibility. And that is where we are collectively right now – unable to see that we are both the problem and the solution.

Take the NRA, for example. They will not release exact membership numbers, but let’s say it’s approximately the 4-5 million I found estimated online. Five million people. And the population of the United States is three hundred million people. Let me say that again for you – three hundred million people.

So tell me again how powerless we are against the gun lobby.

And here’s another thing about that – we are looking for national reform when all politics is local.

We all live in towns or cities, within counties, within states. Those are three levels of legislation that can be changed before getting to the federal level. So if congress and the president won’t do it, then each of us must step up where we live and assert our roles as responsible citizens. The county I live in just passed a law banning gun shows here. So something can be done.

The biggest threat to our democracy is our lack of personal involvement in it. It’s time we stop uttering the phrase, “I don’t want to get involved,” whether it is about witnessing a crime, a car accident, a troubled teen, or our government.

We lose what we relinquish, and more often than not, it is the helping hand when it comes our turn to need one.

So who are we – when nobody’s looking?

And why are we here – if not to leave something better off for our time spent here?

The hour is late. The tine is now. And lives hang in the balance, waiting for us to acknowledge the fullness of that person we see looking back at us in the mirror.

Thank you for stopping by. Please tell your friends.

Monday, February 12, 2018

...well, we made it through January

In my mind, it should be spring. I know, we’re only partly through February, but I think surviving January merits a reward, like more daylight, warmer temperatures and a glimmer of hope that we won’t go to war with North Korea.

I’ve been in hibernation, for the most part, trying to avoid the flu epidemic and finishing another book. Oh, I don’t mean reading another book. I mean writing one. And these things take time. Lots and lots of time.

A successful author once told me, when I was working on my first book, which took ten years to complete, by the way, and it’s not that long of a book – she told me that if I wrote one book, I’d write more books.

Evidently, books are like potato chips – you can’t stop at just one.

At the time, of course, I laughed right to her face. “Me? Never! I will never write another book.”

Famous last words.

So here I am, working day in and day out on book two – the self-help one, because who better to steer you through the murky waters of worry and anxiety to the pristine ones of peace and happiness than me, right?

Stop laughing.

Here’s the thing I will say about it – you can never dole out advice that the Universe will not quiz you on yourself, just to make sure that you’re walking your talk. So I say write a novel, because that way you can just make stuff up, and that’s got to be easier than honest to goodness transformation.

I decided to take a little breather, and by “breather,” I mean I have spent countless hours listening to webinars on marketing and promotion and sales and other words that make me nauseous, because, by golly, I want this thing out in the world. And I also need a new coat.  

I’ll be honest, part of me thinks I should master the whole hashtag thing before contemplating a grand marketing plan, but I’m a big picture kind of gal, so I’ve got lots of charts and lists and a whole array of bright colored Sharpies at my disposal, because no one said this can’t be fun.

Well, it’s time to get back to book writing now…or watching Olympic snowboarding, it’s a tossup.

Stay tuned for more book and music updates!

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.

#newbook #calmthehelldown #singersongwriter #incolor #amidoingthisright
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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

...the Right Words

Words have power. They speak worlds into existence. They can stir the soul or break a heart.

We use them too much and say too little. We hold our tongues, when we should say what we need to say. Or we rush to anger and utter what is irretrievable.

Words carry with them the energy of our intentions, and whether it’s a song lyric, a sonnet, or a political speech, they help shape who we are, and they are what we use to define and describe ourselves and each other.

So whether it’s the voice in our heads or what we utter aloud, we ought to stop and think and pay attention to what it is we say, because we will create something with it – good or bad.

This whole thing about words came to mind, because I watched Joe Kennedy’s speech last night after the State of the Union (or Uniom as the case may be). And for the first time in what felt like an eternity, I had my faith in humanity restored, momentarily at least, and felt this long absent thing I would describe as hope.

And it got me thinking about the sheer power of rhetoric, that this could do that in just a few sentences. But it wasn’t just the words. It was that I didn’t have to wonder if the man saying them was genuine. I didn’t feel like I was a pawn in a political game of chess. I felt like I was someone who was cared about and spoken for, and it occurred to me that we ought to start speaking the world we want to live in into existence.

So how do we do that?

I think we appeal to our better angels and not the lowest common denominator.

I think we build each other up instead of tearing each other apart.

I think if there is a nice thing to say, we say it, whether it’s, “I like your shoes,” or “I love you.”

I think we start being kinder to ourselves in the ways that truly matter, and stop the internal voice that would say we are anything less than capable, intelligent, worthy and desirable.

Somehow, we’ve got to begin standing up for each other, instead of this whole isolating “my God is better than your God,” or “my race is better than your race,” or any lie we perpetrate against one another because of our differences.

Our differences are our strength, not our weakness. Our inclusivity is what enriches our lives. We all come from the same place, whether you call that place God, the Big Bang, or the Candy Man.

When all is said and done, our time here is brief. So dare to say what you want to build. Dare to be vulnerable and trust that your honesty will deepen your relationships. Dare to be bold about what excites you.

Words have power. And we ought to use that power for great things. For encouragement. For empathy. For kindness. For big ideas and stepping stones to healing. For compassion and striving. For being a voice for the voiceless. For declaring what is possible. We can do that, because words have power.

So take a moment wherever you are right now and say something nice to someone, even if it’s a stranger on a bus. Seriously, try it. Words have power. 

Thanks for stopping by today. Please tell your friends.

Friday, January 19, 2018

...Going Home Again

…Aaaand we’re back. Not a moment too soon. We’re home, where this blog began, and where it will likely remain, although if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past 24 hours, it’s not to get too used to anything. 

Change is the one constant, and you’d think knowing that, I would have managed to be better by now at coping with it and even embracing it. But my knee-jerk reaction is momentary hysteria, followed by oh yeah, it’s all gonna be fine..and maybe even better. 

If you’re new to my blog or to me, and this is your first time here, welcome. I’m so glad you stopped by. 

This blog began in 2009, before blogs were even a “thing” like they are now. 

In fact, I had to call my cousin Erik and ask him what a blog actually was and how to start one. 

I was trying to get a book deal at the time, and a publisher told me I needed to create a blog to gather fans. But the funny thing is, I had a feeling about it as I was starting it. I felt like it was going to take me somewhere unexpected. I felt like it was going to lead me to something big. 

And the truth is it did. 

This blog has taken me on adventure after adventure, while honing my skills. Me and my big blogging mouth became political activists, impacted honest to goodness television news, rallied the troops to get healthcare passed, and eventually began writing for The Huffington Post, which was still Arianna’s baby at the time. (She sold it in 2011 to AOL.)

As of yesterday, however, HuffPost, as it is now called, did away with their contributor’s platform, and thus, another new era begins. 

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to how we change the world. On the eve of the second Women’s March tomorrow and the anniversary of the first one a year ago, I am pondering the various ways we all contribute. 

A year ago, I was moved to tears as my friends and I approached the massive crowd in New York City, the likes of which no one had ever seen before. 

The love was palpable and so was the peace. It was the living embodiment of “we’re all in this together.” 

Most of us are not inclined to lead. We’ll follow gladly, but not be the one to lead the charge. The thing is we don’t have that luxury anymore. 

Every one of us must face our own discomfort and do what we can. If you’ve never seen yourself this way before, see yourself this way now. 

As my friend Lorraine once said in a completely different context, “If you’re not dead, get up!” 

Seriously. If you’re waiting for someone to come in and save you, forget it. Get up. It’s time we saved ourselves and each other. 

Last year, as we were marching, I could see the music video of this event playing out in my mind. 

As I started to put it together, I found people from around the world eager to contribute and send pictures and video clips of the various marches. 

I enlisted the talents of a young filmmaker named Dustin Scully to help me realize this vision. The result is the following video of my song “We are the Ones.”  

I hope that tomorrow will serve as a reminder of what unites us. I hope that each of us will remember to lend a hand, build each other up, lead the way, and be the voice for the voiceless. 

Thank you for stopping by. Please tell your friends, and visit again. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

...a birthday blog for Everett Bradley!!

Every so often, one of my unsuspecting friends is the proud recipient of a birthday blog from yours truly. And today, the honor belongs to Everett Bradley!

I first met Everett among swarms of people after some gig he played at the Bitter End, but as we know, swarms of people are not very conducive to any kind of meaningful interaction, so it would be a few years before I feel like I can say I actually met Everett.

It was at a pre-New Year’s Eve party that my friend Tanya Leah hosted, and it was a lovely intimate gathering that turned into a magical evening of meaningful conversation with everyone in attendance.

Did you ever meet someone who just exudes love and joy and light? That is Everett. And that is apart and aside from the ridiculous amount of varied talents that ooze from every pore of his being. Ooze, I tell ya.

I was going to put a whole bunch of stuff here about how he’s played with everyone from Springsteen to Bowie, been nominated for a Grammy, appeared on Broadway and just finished a stint as bandleader for The Meredith Vieira Show, but it seemed very name-droppy and braggy. Oops. Did it anyway!

But the more relevant point, to me, anyway, is that when Tanya and I called him to ask if he’d be part of my album, he said, “yes.” And that was at a time when he certainly didn’t need the work. And also, he’d never heard what I do, so total act of faith on his part, for which I will always be grateful.

Everett wound up singing the male background vocals on almost every song on the album, as well as playing percussion as only he can. If there was a camera on my face during his sessions, you would see the biggest, giddiest, most joyous and gratitude-filled grin on my face. (The still photo here of us afterwards will have to suffice, I’m afraid.)

In a couple of days, I will get to play and sing live with him in studio for a video shoot, and I consider that a thrilling privilege. But in all honesty, the bigger thrilling privilege is to call him my friend.

You are a beautiful soul, Everett Bradley, and I hope this day is a true celebration of the gift you are. Happy, happy birthday!!
Everett and Me (It's his drink I'm holding, I swear!)
Everett, Tanya, and me in post-recording bliss!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

...your world now

I have been known, on many occasions, to write blogs eulogizing and paying homage to those who have passed – some famous figures and some relatives, friends, and acquaintances.

It seems fitting to try to capture some small detail of a life lived and impact made. The truth is we all impact each other in profound ways that go unspoken most of the time.

It’s that teacher who encouraged you, that event that changed the course of your life, the love you thought would last forever. We are destined to grow and change, despite our best efforts not to. We become who we are, and along the way we are accompanied. We are accompanied by a soundtrack, the songs that take the journey with us.

Maybe it starts with the music our parents played. Maybe it’s an older sibling. We are not conscious, most of us, of what forms us until we look back much later, until we start making our own choices, dabbling in different genres, until we find what speaks to us, and maybe even more importantly, what speaks for us.

My tastes have never been the avant-garde. I’m not drawn to art that disturbs me. I’m drawn to what makes me feel a part of something larger, or at the very least, less alone in the world. The world is disturbing enough. I want harmony, both in my music and in my soul.

You would think that, being a songwriter, I would have a long play list when it comes to favorite bands through the years, but the truth is I’ve only ever really truly loved two – the Beatles and the Eagles.

If you scoured my CD collection, that is pretty much who you would find for bands, not that there haven’t been other good ones, but let’s be frank, the other bands I’ve liked can trace their sonic lineage directly to the Eagles, so why not stick with the source?

When John Lennon was shot, it was one of those events where you could remember exactly where you were when you heard the news, what you were doing, how you felt. Our world would never be the same, not only because of the way in which he died, or how young, but because his passing made any hope of a future reunion gone to us forever. We’ve had decades to live with that, now and accept it.

The Eagles, though, that’s another story. We’ve seen and heard hell freeze over. And no matter how long they’ve each had solo careers, it never seemed to shut the door on the band, on that sound, on the songs that have been our soundtrack.

Glenn Frey died last Monday, and though his passing has been one in a long line of recent musical passings, I have hardly been able to speak about it, so profound seems this particular loss.

I didn’t know him personally. I knew nothing about his life or his family. I couldn’t tell you his birthday or favorite color. But if you asked me for a list of my all-time favorite songs, there was sure to be at least one of his on there. And that is saying something.

In a world where melody and lyric have been replaced by a driving beat and mindless repetition of disposable hooks, it’s easy to see why respect must be paid to those whose work endures. I often wonder what songs our current youth will be reminiscing about four decades from now. Justin Bieber? Jay Z? I feel sorry for them. Truly.

Me, I’ve got these songs, timeless, and enduring, and so much more poignant to me now. The world seems a much sadder place, with the Eagles, like the Beatles, relegated to a memory now. The harmonies seem that much sweeter, and my own life, that much more fragile.

Artists are struggling nowadays. We seem perpetually torn between trying to stay afloat and trying to stay true to ourselves. Bands like the Eagles never seemed to have to endure this struggle. They never seemed to go away or lose relevance.

I find myself telling people to say something that matters, because our time here is brief and the need is great for that.

Glenn Frey seemed to already know that, and with his passing, I hear this song of his and Jack Tempchin’s in a new way…

“It’s your world now, use well the time
Be part of something good, leave something good behind
The curtain falls, I take my bow
That’s how it’s meant to be, it’s your world now.”

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Project Update...the other kind of players on my project!

First things first, the record is being mastered and the artwork completed as I type this! So we are on the home stretch of this project…which you have so patiently waited for.

This brings me to the rest of the team involved…

You can have the best band, singers, and songs on earth, but if your mixes and mastering fall short, your album is in a heap o’ trouble. And that is why I am unbelievably fortunate to be working with the most talented and wonderful people on our good planet earth.

So I’d like you to meet Brian Montgomery, my mixer, and Alan Silverman, my masterer. (Is “masterer” an actual word?)

I will be completely honest with you – I did not know either of these gentlemen before this project. And that has been one of the added bonuses of making this record – getting to work with the best people in the music business and also the loveliest. And believe me, I do not bandy the phrase “best people in the music business” about willy-nilly.

Sure, I could give you the really long list of artists that each of these gentlemen has worked with, but let’s just hit some highlights – Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, the Rolling Stones, Shawn Colvin, John Mayer, Michael Buble, Alison Krauss, Darlene Love. Do I need to go on? No, I didn’t think so.

To say I am grateful and thrilled and excited about how this record is turning out, is the understatement of the century. It has surpassed my wildest expectations in the best way possible, and every single person who has contributed in every way, shape, and form has done so with their heart as well as their gifts. And I thank you all.

It also bears mentioning that there are other people who have contributed in essential and extraordinary ways to this project.

Stan Tomczak has taken some incredible pictures of me over the past several months and during multiple shoots. Some of them will appear on the project artwork itself, and the rest will be in a newly revamped website to come. He gets a gold star for not only the beautiful photos, and his generous spirit, but for making it so much fun.

Speaking of pictures, the cover photo that people have been admiring online was both taken and transformed into art by my good friend and genius producer, Tanya Leah.

Tanya, in addition to producing and playing and singing backgrounds on this record, is also the graphic artist.

I know, I was thinking the same thing – it is unfair for one person to have that many talents. (And let’s not forget the tambourine and harmonica playing that she also did on the record!) She has made the entirety of this project beautiful both visually and sonically.

How the back cover artwork for the album made its way to me is an interesting story worth sharing. It was created by an amazingly talented California artist named Marina Drasnin.

I believe we cross each other’s paths for a reason, and that our steps are, at least sometimes, divinely guided, because truthfully, whether it is this artwork or singing a duet with Kenny Loggins, I know neither would have happened without someone upstairs looking out for me.

Facebook – ah, that double-edged sword of social media! Are we really “friends” with someone if we’re friends on Facebook? Does that count? Is the connection real? Is it possible for it to become real, if it’s not initially?

I think so. And that is where the story begins. It starts with me becoming Facebook friends with an Olympic athlete and world champion figure skater – Tai Babilonia.

I’ll be honest, I don’t remember exactly how that happened, but I’ll be forever grateful that it somehow did.

So in the grand landscape of Facebook algorithms, I somehow saw a post on Tai’s Facebook feed that Marina had posted on her wall. And Marina, who is also a figure skater, was friends with Tai since childhood.

Well, I fell in love with this piece of art that Marina posted. And here is the only thing I know about art (or anything, really) - I know if it moves me or if it doesn’t move me. And this moved me. I immediately saw it as the back of my album. It was perfect. It was a butterfly.

So to recap for a moment here, I am about to ask a complete stranger if I can buy or use her artwork to put on my CD, and I know neither her nor her skating champion friend whom I adored since I was a kid.

Long story short, Marina’s artwork is my back cover, we did actually meet face to face recently, and her beautiful art is truly a reflection of her beautiful soul.

A glance at a Facebook feed!! I’m telling you – divinely guided!! 

This project, for all the time it has taken, has grown in magnitude from what I once thought it would initially be. So part of the obligation of having it turn out grander than my wildest imaginings is that it demands the same effort, energy, faith and perseverance once it is out in the world as it had during its creation.

This is the point at which most artists run screaming into the night, because, frankly, artists are not generally born with the constitution to want to market, promote, and strategize about demographics and sales. Many of us break out into a rash even thinking about such things.

But I didn’t spend the last few years of my life creating this just to wimp out on marketing because it gives me a rash. Nope. That’s what medicated lotions are for.

My greatest ace in the hole, of course, is you. 

If you love it, don’t be shy. Say something – to your friends, colleagues, relatives, neighbors, hairdressers, bartenders, accountants – you get the idea. Post a picture of you holding the CD on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Subscribe to my YouTube channel here: Ilene's YouTube Channel Buy a copy for a friend. Make it go viral. (The good kind of viral, not like the flu.)

I will be doing my best to promote it as well. And part of that includes some additional angels who are working behind the scenes to help me. These additional angels are Patti Petow of Petow Publicity and Jeryl Brunner, who, like Tanya, is assisting me in more ways than I know how to count or thank her for.

There is so much more to come, and I am so grateful for every one of you who came forward and championed this record. There is not a moment I don’t know that I am extremely blessed, or a moment I don’t appreciate you making it possible. As I will say many more times – thank you.

Me & Brian Montgomery, my phenomenal mixer

Me, Stan Tomczak, my fab photographer, & Tanya Leah, my genius producer

Me and brilliant artist Marina Drasnin