December 30, 2009 — Happy New Year

Hooray for you! Hooray for me! We made it — another spin around the sun. And we’re still here. That’s big mojo in my book.

It may feel like some of us will tip-toe forward, while others dive headfirst and a few, maybe, get dragged into that great mystery, also known as the new year. But hey, we get to be here together.

My husband, the high school history teacher, reminds me that every generation thinks history begins with them. (His students were born in 1994, so they figure that’s when the world began, which sends me running for the mashed potatoes and reruns of Andy Griffith). If I take into account last year and the year before and before that, well, life is a mixed bag! We may very well experience the whole panoply of drama, celebration and emotion in the coming year.

That said, no matter what happens moment to moment, I try to remember the cheery words of the great philosopher, Voltaire: “Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.”  My friends, sing on and have a joy-full-licious 2010!

December 6, 2009 — Shameless Self-Promotion

Well ‘tis the season to toot my own horn, because apparently no one else will! In fact, this one-woman-independent-musician-performer has to wear so many hats, I don’t know why I bother brushing my hair.  That’s a joke…sort of.

A couple weeks ago I sold three copies of my new ukulele CD “Are You Having Any Fun” to a lovely woman at a retirement home in San Pedro. She phoned the next day and ordered two more as holiday gifts. “I feel so good when I listen to your music,” she said. For me, there are no sweeter words. Sure I woodshed on my instruments (that means practice, practice, practice), vocalize, run through the jokes, write the songs, but ultimately it comes down to how my work makes you feel.

Yes, times are tight and are we or aren’t we out of the recession…who knows. But I am so proud of this album and really want to share the “feel good” with you. You can buy or download the album or individual songs at most online stores or purchase a copy at my gigs (where they are one sale for $10!)

Now, for a change of pace…

Could you use some holiday “ha ha” just about now? A few years back, when I was really stressing out, I wrote my own bah-humbug song “Pooey, Pooey, Pooey, It’s Christmas” which was picked up by Dr. Demento and played all over the world on college radio stations. That said, it’s my holiday hit song hardly anyone has heard…

But I made a living room video of my ukulele version and you can watch it on YouTube. Like right now!

Okay, off with the promotion hat… Time to practice.  But I want to wish all of you a heart-full December, no matter what you celebrate or don’t and with whom, or not, it’s a wonderful thing to still be here, breathing in and making a noise.

November 21, 2009 — Giving Thanks

Every so often I sing at a sub-acute rehabilitation center in Los Angeles. What is that? The people, well, patients, all need respirators to breath. Many scoot around happily in their wheelchairs or walkers, but there are a few who have drawn the unluckiest cards of all. They survived the auto accident, the fall from the ladder, the overdose or shooting but are paralyzed for the rest of their lives.

I remember my first gig, as the staff rolls and pushes the “audience” into the small upstairs activity room. A young man, whose eyes are unblinking and fixed on the ceiling, lays motionless in his bed. Others are more animated and watch with curiosity as I set up my gear for the show.

I’ve already had plenty of nasties in my life and know that anything can happen, anytime, but mostly I live in the tenuous state of denial. As you can imagine, there’s no place for denial in a rehab facility. The truth is front and center. The whole experience really shakes me up. But I make it through and have had the good fortune to return many times over the years because I meet people whose courage and good humor inspire me, people like “Richard.”

Joy is etched into every line on his expressive face. Except for the thumb on his right hand, Richard is paralyzed from the neck down. That said, a certain light emanates from this man. I can’t explain it, but I sure as hell can feel it. When he tells me he loves Rodgers and Hammerstein music, I throw in a couple songs from “Oklahoma” just for him. His million-dollar smile warms me from the inside out.

The next time I visit, Richard is over the moon. He got his dream wheelchair at last. The toggle switch he works with his right thumb allows him to navigate up and down the halls like a New York cab driver. He looks at me with tears in his eyes and says, “I am the luckiest man in the world.” Folks, he means every single word. It’s a “Lou Gehrig” moment. You can taste his gratitude. It fills the room like sweet perfume.

“I will neverrrr, everrrr complain about anything again,” I think to myself…not believing it for a second.

I knew Richard for about a year and during that time he showed me what gratitude looks like and sounds like and feels like. The staff loved him. The volunteers loved him. The patients loved him and you could feel the heavy pall as it fell over the rehab center when Richard passed away. But he left me a great gift. He showed me that it’s possible to be grateful, grateful for something, no matter what.

Everyday is Thanksgiving…Well ‘tis the season to toot my own horn, because apparently no one else will! In fact, this one-woman-independent-musician-performer has to wear so many hats, I don’t know why I bother brushing my hair.
That’s a joke…sort of.

A couple weeks ago I sold three copies of my new ukulele CD “Are You Having Any Fun” to a lovely woman at a retirement home in San Pedro. She phoned the next day and ordered two more as holiday gifts. “I feel so good when I listen to your music,” she said. For me, there are no sweeter words. Sure I woodshed on my instruments (that means practice, practice, practice), vocalize, run through the jokes, write the songs, but ultimately it comes down to how my work makes you feel.
Yes, times are tight and are we or aren’t we out of the recession…who knows. But I am so proud of this album and really want to share the “feel good” with you. Download it at CD Baby or iTunes for $9.99 and Amazon for only $8.99. Purchasing an actual CD costs a little more (unless you come to my gigs where I sell them for $10!).

November 13, 2009 — Doing Chin Ups

I’ve been feeling extra “achy” lately. My back and neck muscles are throbbing, and not in a good way. So off to the new chiropractor I go. He watches me stand and walk, turn my head, play the ukulele and air piano. He presses his fingers into several nests of hurt. How does he find them so quickly?

Being a life-long musician, gravity and my instruments have been pulling my body forward. Apparently the muscles in my “front” are taut and tired, whereas the muscles in my “back” are, well, non-existent. “You mean I have a back?” I ask incredulously. The truth is, I am blissfully unaware of half my body. But hey, it’s not just me, or musicians. You’re reading this on your computer, right? Are you leaning into the screen, like E.T. the Extra Terrestrial?

Gravity wins in the end, but I’m going to fight it, one thoracic kyphosis workout at a time. Yes, I’m buffing up my back, or else. The Doc shows me the exercises that will be part of my life from now on. One is the basic “chin up.” FYI, I’m not a jock. I hated P.E. and I don’t hang by my hands, ever.

So picture this: Here I am, in our condo gym, doing the new routine for the first time. The “chin up” bar is halfway to heaven. I ponder it nervously, raise my arms high above my head and leap into the air. You can imagine my shock when we actually connect, the bar and me.

Do you remember the classic greeting card that features a terrified cat dangling from a branch and the reassuring message, “hang in there”? That’s me. On one hand, it’s a miracle that I am actually hanging. But when I try to gather every watt of energy to lift my body weight one lousy centimeter, absolutely nothing happens, except I let go and flop to the floor.

When I report back to The Doc, he assures me that I will be able to do a chin up in a few weeks and it will be very, very, very empowering. I could use some empowering. Couldn’t we all.

That said, it’s funny how encouragement arrives in unexpected ways:

Just a few days after my first chin up attempt, I am entertaining at a senior community in the San Fernando Valley. One of the residents, whom I shall call Daisy, is one sassy gal. Her back is ramrod straight, as if she is balancing an invisible copy of “The Feminine Mystique” on her head. She is slim, stunningly beautiful and loves to dance. So I sing “Rock Around the Clock” as she sashays around the grand piano in her matching terra-cotta blouse, stretch pants and strappy hooker sandals that she bought last summer on Hollywood Boulevard. Daisy really shakes her bottom and all the men who can, want to dance with her, but she says they cramp her style and she’d rather dance by herself, so the guys have learned to just watch.

After the show we have deep conversations about life and death, politics and her extraordinary posture. “The second I realize I’m slouching, I pull myself up, just like that,” she says. “When my shoulders tighten, I relax them and make sure they roll back.” It seems that working on her posture has been a life-long project. She’s been at it for 95 years.

November 3, 2009 — Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday to those of you who happen to be celebrating your special day sometime this year! Have I left anyone out?

November is my birthday month and I celebrated big time by going to Disneyland (well actually Disney’s California Adventure) for FREE. Is there a sweeter word in the English language? My dear friend Jamie, who knows every Disney song ever written since the beginning of time and plays them on the grand piano at the hotel in the park, alerted me to this new promotion. All I had to do was sign in online, make a copy of the golden ticket and show up — on my actual birthday.

When I presented the crumpled-up ticket to the nice lady in the booth she pushed the official Disney Birthday Button under the glass, along with a Sharpie I used to inscribe my name in the ribbon-adorned blank spot. Little did I know this button would be my passport to fame and adoration. At every turn, a cheerful Disney employee spied my button and, with unabashed joy and sincerity, wished me “Happy Birthday!” Oh what the hell, I’ll take it any way I can get it.

Jamie and I, the queens of fanny packs (as you can see in the picture), agreed that we would not force each other onto a ride that evoked stark fear or induced back pain. That said, she reluctantly joined me on the “Fun Wheel,” which is Disney’s version of a Ferris Wheel. Jamie doesn’t like this ride at all and once we were seated, immediately closed her eyes and emitted sad groans as the fully-caged-in car rocked like a swing. What could I do? So I started to sing:

“Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop.
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock…”

Thankfully I remembered that the next lines of the song are about the cradle falling out of the tree, so I immediately went back to the beginning and sang the first two lines over and over until the friendly staff beckoned us to disembark and not a moment too soon.

Jamie waited patiently as I went solo on the roller coaster. She warned me not to spit on myself when it goes upside-down. My mouth is almost always open, so I knew this would be a problem. I will leave you with that and you can create your own visual.

Finally, there is a splendid ride called “Soaring” and it feels like you are flying through the majestic landscape of California. Watching this was thrilling, but mostly it made me grateful: Grateful for my dear friends and family, grateful that my parents moved to California so many years ago and brought me along. And at birthday time, I am especially grateful to be alive. Often I sing and entertain for people who will never get on a Ferris Wheel again, who are afraid or lonely or in pain and the best I can do is greet them with the same joy I felt today.  Here’s to friendship and birthdays!


October 21, 2009 — Happy Halloween!

Years ago I sang in a bar that had a small piano pushed up against one wall, so technically you could call it a piano bar. The place shall remain nameless, although I fondly referred to it as “the dump.”

The manager hid out in the alley and let the joint run itself, which can be a good thing. Or not. I don’t think he knew that the cocktail waitress hated me. In fact it was nuclear fission from day one. We all have these irrational reactions to people sometimes but Cruella (okay, that’s not her real name) seemed to derive perverse pleasure taking aim at me. She was already sliding past her prime and holding onto her kingdom with ferocious tenacity. Maybe I reminded her of some despised person in her past. Maybe I reminded her of herself.

Things came to a head Halloween night, wouldn’t you know. I arrived to find that Cruella had done some serious holiday decorating which included encasing the entire piano, ceiling to floor, behind a thick curtain of “spider webs.” In the fiberlass filaments–the kind that lodge in your lungs forever–she had artistically woven plastic tarantulas and skulls that hung just right, just right in front of the piano player’s face.

Boy was I frosted and not about to perform under these circumstances. I glanced at Cruella who was standing near the bartender, hands on hips, her scrawny lips drawn into a gotcha smirk. I looked all over for the manager, stuck my head out the back door and called his name down the alley. “Hey, trick or treat, where are you?” Gone, gone, gone.

So I took matters into my own hands. Pulling fold-up scissors from my purse, I stood on top of the piano in my stocking feet, balancing carefully as the curtain (which she had thumbtacked to the ceiling) dropped to the floor one graceful clip at a time. The expression on Cruella’s face was one I never want to see again, on anybody. But the show must go on. I did my four sets of music; the audience grooved with the voodoo vibe; my drink wasn’t poisoned and I didn’t get followed home by a crazed waitress.


The phone rang early the next morning. “What the hell happened last night?” asked the booking agent with feverish intensity. “They want to sue you for desecrating their property, and by the way, you’re fired.” The agent eventually smoothed things out, we averted a frivolous lawsuit (Cali vs. Cruella Z. Meanie) and I soon found another gig where we all got along.

As the neighborhood gentrified, the dump, this den of dysfunction served cold with beer and nuts, disappeared into the mist of memory. Today, in the very spot where Cruella stood akimbo, her face drawn and contorted, is a nice Subway sandwich shop, with it’s friendly staff and fresh baked buns. Have a wonderful Halloween!

October 12, 2009 — Sending Songs Into The World!

Back in 1948, Nat King Cole recorded an exotic, philosophical song that was written by a yogi-dude (Eden Ahbez) and would you believe, it was a giant hit.  “Nature Boy” didn’t follow the established rules of songwriting at the time, but something about this tune struck a nerve.  Maybe it has to do with the last line of the song:  “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”

Those of us (that would be everybody) who whip something up out of nothing, whether it’s a song, a story, a joke, an omelet, a painting, whatever, I think it’s an expression of love made visible.  And we hope someone else will love it too. It feels SO good when that happens.

Aloha Joe is playing three of my songs on his wildly-popular internet radio show that features island-flavored music, and a few of the tunes on my new ukulele CD have that plumeria/tradewind feel.  I’m stoked.  It’s like hearing that one of your kids just landed their first job.  I don’t have children myself, so this is as close as I get to the satisfaction of watching our little ones grow up and find their way in the world.

It takes me back to one balmy evening on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, not long after I released my comedy CD, “Cali Rose Gets Goofy.” The infamous Dr. Demento had called to tell me he would debut my song “It’s A P.M.S. Kind of Day” at exactly 8:35 P.M. on his syndicated radio show.  Good God, that meant that his listeners in Greenland, India, Timbuktu, would hear about my personal problems.  As one of my dear friends likes to say “It’s a mighty thin plank that doesn’t have two sides.”

I took a long break from my piano bar gig in Sir Winston’s, held the portable radio to my ear (before iPods, kids) and paced up and down the Promenade Deck in my bejeweled black evening gown until my song was announced and played. I thought I was going to pee in my pantyhose, I was so excited.  The song became popular for awhile and I heard from people–well, ladies–from all over, who told me I was telling their story and thank you and when the royalty checks arrived, I decided that P.M.S. isn’t that bad after all and we’re all rockin’ in the “Nature-Girl-On-Midol” boat together.