Tag Archives: Music

Vivid in the Valley

5 Jun


On this blog (and most everywhere else), I talk about dreaming big and having faith in those dreams.  I believe in this, and I try my best to walk the talk, but sometimes my faith wavers and the dream feels like it’s too far out of reach as unexpected detours take me miles away from where I’m headed.

It’s usually at that moment that someone or something presents itself as a hopeful sign of  Steve Jobs’ sage reminder that “…you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

This week I discovered the debut single from the ambient pop group Silvery Ghosts, and as I began to learn more about the band – and the singer/songwriter behind it – I realized that this was yet another sign that sometimes the long way around is the only way to get to where you belong.

In the past five years, band founder Hank Kim has been through what he calls “an amazing, humbling journey.”  Kim, a native of Dayton, Ohio, released his first album, Blue Alibi in 2005 after having been introduced to New York indie rock mainstay, Mike Daly.  According to Blue Alibi liner notes, Daly, on the rebound after having disbanded his group Whiskeytown, “…became intrigued with the singer’s raw, idiosyncratic voice and melodic hooks, chronicling the jagged tales of misfits, rebels, and other bruised souls, flailing at the ghosts of redemption, in turns that are both comic and heartbreaking.”

At the end of 2001, in the wake of destruction, Kim and Daly walked into Soho’s Magic Shop and began the hopeful process of recording what would become the base for the rest of the album’s tracks.  Over the next two years, they worked with “…Dan Rieser (Marcy Playground, Norah Jones), drummer Alan Bezozi (Freedy Johnston), keyboardist John Deley (Dido), bassist Joe Quigley, and Sir Tim Bright, the renaissance man of Avenue U, who lent his distinctive touch to everything from the guitar and 6-string bass to the harmonium…” to produce an album that cleverly combined acoustic storytelling traditions with the yearning ache of Kim’s vocals and gave it a musical backing that transcended eras planting him squarely in the center of the power pop movement.

If you think I’m overstating the case, give “May/December Girl” a listen and you’ll see what I mean.

For various reasons, the album didn’t get the attention it deserved, but Kim was undeterred and set about working on his sophomore effort.  It would take him nearly four years to record Notorious Rainproof Smile, which moved Kim’s vocals away from the acoustic crooner style toward an edgier, indie rock sound.  The effort took its toll, and by the time it was ready for release he felt lost.  According to Kim, “I didn’t even bother to give the record a proper release.  I thought I was done as a musician and a songwriter.  I felt like the biggest fake – that I didn’t really have anything to say that anyone would want to hear.  All of the old demons were barking real loud.”

At that point, Kim let go of the music and began to reinvent himself by enrolling in acting school and starting his own business.  It wasn’t until 2010, after a failed relationship, that Kim felt the reemerging urge to create music.  In the spring of that year, he sat down at his computer and let loose the river of raw, uncensored thoughts and emotions that would become the basis for Love & Other Ephemera.

Finally hitting the studio in 2013, Kim tapped Nate Martinez (formerly of Pela and Theiving Irons) to produce the album.  According to the band’s website, together they worked to capture musical ephemera, a sound that Kim calls, “music without boundaries…the sense of searching for truthful expression that may or may not be relevant years from now but captures the emotional essence of a given moment in time.” They combined elements of modern electronic music and programming with traditional tools like piano and acoustic guitar as well as touches of Eastern sounds including the Saz (a Turkish 7-Stringed instrument with the intonation of a mandolin) and the sitar. Kim also brought gifted vocalist Kelli Scarr (who collaborated with Moby on 2010’s “Gone to Sleep”) on board for eight of the albums ten tracks.

In Silvery Ghosts’ first single, Vivid in the Valley, the combination of Scarr’s ripe, sultry voice languidly wrapping around the sophisticated ache of Kim’s trademark croon fans the embers and makes the song positively burn.  The official music video is currently being edited by director, Jeaneen Lund.

The release of Love & Other Ephemera on June 9 signals both the rebirth and the return of an artist who has embraced the pain of the past, recognizing that “All the twists and turns of the past were necessary for me to find my voice as a singer and an artist.”  As he looks forward to what is next,  Kim explains, “Silvery Ghosts is an opportunity to finally assert myself.  I feel like the training wheels are coming off with this record.  I may actually know what the hell I’m doing.  It’s a great feeling.”

Once again, I’m reminded that it’s the journey that matters. All of the twists, turns, and detours that create our rich, memorable lives are what we carry and, ultimately, leave behind.

The destination is simply the satisfaction of knowing we’ve finally connected all the dots.

Updated June 10: Lund’s video was posted, and all I can say is that this better come with a fire extinguisher because it’s SMOKIN’ HOT!

Silvery Ghosts will perform on June 23 at Rockwood Music Hall in New York.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SilveryGhosts
Website: http://www.silveryghosts.com



21 May

Me and the Saginaw soccer girls; Photo by John and/or Robert

A few weeks ago, I had the great fortune of meeting a group of young women who reminded me that it’s never to early – or too late – jump in and live life to the fullest.  These young soccer players had traveled south from Saginaw to play in a tournament over Mother’s Day weekend, and on the Friday night before the games began, they showed up at my department store cosmetics counter enthusiastically asking to be made over.

From the moment they arrived, I was fascinated by their energy and bright spirits.  Their words tumbled out of their mouths and over each others sentences as they begged me to give them smokey eyes and glossy lips, and before I could respond, aided by the tag on my apron, they were calling me by my first name.  “Mary, please?” “Mary, can you make me look glamourous?”  “What do you think of this color, Mary?”

How could I resist?

The first question I asked was whether their mothers would allow them to wear makeup.  I learned this one the hard way, when, one afternoon, a group of pre-teen girls showed up and begged to try the new mascara our line had just launched.  Since I have no children of my own, it never occurred to me that some mothers might not want their daughters to wear makeup at home, let alone test it out in a department store.  So, I meticulously applied a layer of lengthening mascara to the lashes of a young woman who, it turned out, was not even supposed to be wearing lip gloss. 

When her mother showed up, all hell broke loose at the counter.  I apologized profusely, soaked a cotton ball with makeup remover, handed it to the girl, and swore to myself that I’d never again forget to ask, yet knowing full well that the answer I’d get would most likely be questionable.

Hey, I was twelve once, too.

The girls all assured me that their mothers would not mind a bit, and because they had such open and honest little faces, I decided to trust them.

I’m so glad I did.

Since being hired at this counter, I’ve made peace with the giant cosmetics industry by deciding that I would never sell a product based on what a woman was lacking, but rather as a means of enhancing the beauty she already possessed. It’s the only way I can look at myself in the mirror as I apply my own makeup every morning.

The Saginaw girls were already gorgeous – to me – and as I listened to them, I was reminded of the excitement I felt when, at twelve, I pulled out the shoe box (hidden under my bed) that contained a compact, a lipstick (Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers in Watermelon), and a pallet of very blue eye shadow that I’d dug out of the discount bin at Walgreens, and applied them all – libreally.

Not wanting to repeat the debacle that defines my seventh grade picture (read: orange hair courtesy of Sun-In and blue eye shadow up to my eyebrows), I gave them each the option of a “natural on the go glow” or a “Saturday night party girl” look.  As I worked, I listened to them talk about everything – music, soccer, boys, school, and each other.  They were hilariously honest and asked a million questions, which they quickly answered themselves as I concentrated on applying colors that complemented their skin tones.

I answered their questions, and only interjected when they began to talk about how someone was worried about what boys thought of her fat thighs.  I was shocked because not one of them was remotely close to being overweight, and because they were expressing the exact same fears that I had at twelve – and, if I’m honest, still have at forty-five.


I told them that all of the cool guys I know do not judge a women based on the size of her thighs, stomach or any other part of her body, to which they smartly shot back, “Her boobs!  Boys look a a girl’s boobs and judge her!”  I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing as I replied, “Yes, they do.  And they will for the rest of your lives, but as long as they are not rude about it, just pretend not to notice because they simply can’t help it.”  This caused them to laugh loudly and talk about the boys in their favorite band (which they told me the name of, numerous times, and I still can’t remember).

When I was done with each girl, I held up a mirror and asked them what they thought.  I watched as a look of awe spread across their faces giving way to excitement, and I knew I was watching each one of them see themselves as beautiful and grown-up. The funny thing is that I hadn’t applied a lot of makeup – a little blush, a little light eyeshadow, a coat of mascara and some lip gloss – so they were simply looking at slightly enhanced versions of their own natural beauty.

When they were done, one of the mothers came to pick them up and take them back to the hotel.  She approved of the job I’d done as she gathered up her little ducklings so they could hit the pool before bed. Both the mother and I were openly envious of the fact that they still had energy to burn.

The next night, my soccer friends returned with three new teammates, and we went through the routine again, except this time they talked with me like I was an old friend. Again, asking questions, telling me about school, soccer, boys, and all of the wonderful things that twelve-year old girls will talk about when an adult treats them like they’re grown up.  When I was done, they handed me a stack of notes they’d written on the back of sheets we use to outline the products we’ve used during a makeover.

Later, after they’d left, I unfolded the notes and found that they’d written “Mary, from your favorite person you’ll ever meet.  Mary, your the best person I ever met. Love, M.” and “A.A. is soooo cool and loves Mary” and “M.C. is the most amazing person ever and she LOVES Mary!”

As I read the notes, I teared up, and thought, “We should all be so lucky have a group of adoring twelve-year olds in our lives.”

What will stick with me forever, though, is the moment when, on the second night, one of the girls began talking about not being pretty enough, I cut in and said, “You’re beautiful.  With or without makeup, you are absolutely stunning and gorgeous because you are *you*!”  All at once, five girls began singing the lyrics to “Beautiful” – loud and proud, ignoring all of the looks that other shoppers and cosmetics sales people shot at them. They sang, in unison, through the chorus, and all I could do was stand back and smile as I watched them.

I hope I never forget how empowering it felt to watch a group of young women be that bold and beautiful.

Fortunately, I know that if I ever do, I’ll have a team of intelligent, hilarious, and fiercely strong young friends around to remind me.

Magic Power

1 Sep


Photo by DMT


I don’t think most people dream nearly enough.

I’m not talking about dreams that come during the night and help us make sense of all of the information our brains store in our subconscious mind, I’m talking about the big, bold daytime dreams.  The dreams in which we are the courageous hero or the daring adventurer; the dreams that take us to the outer reaches of our ambitions and desires; the dreams that, if uttered out loud, would probably cause people to shake their heads and tell us we’re crazy for even thinking such things.

I dream of becoming a rock star.

One of my favorite things to do on my half hour drive to and from work is to plug my iPod into the car stereo, crank up the volume and imagine myself as the lead guitarist in a stadium-tour band.  In my fantasy, I wear black jeans, a black tank top, and a killer pair of stiletto boots as I rip into solo after solo, belting out the lyrics to whatever song fits my mood that day.  I thrash my little heart out along side the real guitar heroes – Petrucci, Emmett, and Malmsteen – matching them chord for chord as the crowd roars for more.   No matter what else is going on in my life, for sixty minutes each day I am a strong and powerful stage performer, a skilled musician — a total badass with great hair and a screamin’ guitar.

The first person I ever mentioned my rock star fantasy to was D.  It was scary to let someone else see a dream that was just starting to flourish.  For months, I’d only allowed myself quick peeks at it, and then one day while listening to Triumph’s Magic Power,” I saw it all with perfect clarity.  I saw myself wailing on the guitar as my bass player sang,  “She’s young, now/She’s wild, now/She wants to be free!” Impulsively, I sat down at the keyboard and quickly pounded out my vision of the entire performance.

It should have been enough just to have written the scenario, but being the control freak I am, I added “listening directions” and instructed D. to crank up the song and while reading my writing. While I was excited to have him read my dream, I also cringed when I thought about how I had exposed my secret and opened myself up to potential embarrassment. After all, D. is a musician himself, and actually knows what it feels like to be on stage.  I, on the other hand, could only imagine what it would be like, and I was afraid that my description wouldn’t be accurate.  I was afraid that he’d be able to see all of the flaws and, that when he pointed them out, the budding rock star in me would be smashed like one of Pete Townsend’s guitars.  However, being the wonderful friend that he is, D. not only followed my instructions, he also quickly wrote back and told me that not only did he love the writing, but that he could actually feel the performance as he listened and read.  I was thrilled that, as a real musician, he had taken my silly little daydream seriously.

Later, I thanked him for believing in me, and exclaimed, “You never tell me any of my ideas or dreams are impossible!”  In his usual way, he calmly replied, “And I never will.”

We all need someone who supports our dreams, but more than that, we need to believe that we have the right to dream.  We need to believe that no matter how impossible it seems, we have the right to entertain the notion that we could be or do or say anything at all. We need to believe this because being able to dream the impossible dreams can lead to action on other, not-so-impossible dreams.  For me, being able to envision myself as a rock star motivated me to maintain my workout schedule, helped me shed many of my insecurities, and has made my commute something I actually look forward to every day.

I don’t harbor any illusions that I’ll ever actually be a rock star, and it’s not because I’m a pessimist.  I’m simply pragmatic.  I understand the reality, and while I do think that I could probably do just about anything I set my mind to, I also recognize that in order for me to become a rock star I would not only have to learn to play the guitar, but I would also have to kick my shoe buying habit in order to tour dive bars in a cramped vehicle.  Oh, and then there’s the small matter of learning how to sing on key.  The reality is that I don’t have the time, energy or motivation to devote myself to the task of becoming a rock star, but that doesn’t mean I can’t dream about it.

And I can definitely buy myself a pair of kick-ass stiletto boots.

My Way

18 Aug


Photo by DMT


Frank Sinatra on Crack saved me.

Last week I made a big, bold – and impulsive – declaration about living a dream.  When I made it, I believed it.  I was feeling excited about the possibilities and confident in my ability to make things happen.  I was ready to elope!  Over the weekend the realities began to set in.

As anyone who has ever planned for a move knows, there are a million things that need to be done before the actual move can happen, and when you start talking about moving to a whole new state, the tasks begin to exponentially multiply.  This weekend I dove into the dream by pulling out all of my financial records for the past year in order to pull together a budget.  Oh please, don’t look at me like that.  Most Americans don’t have a budget spreadsheet that calculates everything down to the penny.  Or maybe that’s just me.

The point is that once I pulled out all of the paperwork and had it spread out on my desk, I started to feel overwhelmed.  I started thinking about all of the other tasks I’d need to complete – culling my possessions so that I can downsize from 750 sq. ft. of living space to 450 sq. ft., packing my remaining possessions, finding someone to load them up, move them, and unload them 1000 miles away – and it made me want to scrap the budget and head out to the pool.  My stubbornness won out, and I stayed in and worked on the budget.  A few hours later, as I saved my Excel spreadsheet, I realized that I’d only input two months worth of data. Again, the pool beckoned, and this time I gave in.

The truth is – I’m scared.

I’m scared because I want to make this dream a reality so badly that I can taste it, but I also know that I don’t have control over what will or will not happen.  I’m scared because I’ve put this dream out there in the blog universe and shared it with everyone I know.  I’m scared because I want to do this “right” even though I know that there is no right way to do anything.

I also know that people who love and care about me are a little concerned about this latest development.  I tend to be a wide-eyed optimist who views the world in a positive light. It baffles those who aren’t able to understand how I maintain sunny outlook, and it worries those who have watched me leap – and fall. My friends and family worry about me because they think my optimism is someday going to get me killed, and New York’s reputation isn’t helping matters.

Some of it is an issue of physical safety.  I’m the kind of person who truly believes that you get back what you put out there, so if I’m just polite and respectful to the drug dealers on the corner, they’ll reciprocate.  If there were a contest, I’d probably be voted “Person Most Likely to Be Killed While Introducing Herself in a Dangerous Neighborhood.” The realist in me understands that I’m not going to stop a bullet just by being nice to it, but the idealist believes that in order for the bullet not to fly in the first place someone has to start somewhere.  This does not allay the fears of the people who love me.

When I told D. that I had found a beautiful Hamilton Heights apartment that was also totally affordable, he responded “Mary, there’s a reason it’s nice AND affordable. It’s in Harlem, looks like it’s near Columbia University, which is not a nice area.”  And I replied, “But can’t we all just get along?  I mean, if I’m in my optimistic, chirpy bubble what can go wrong?” His lack of response let me know that the irresistible force had met the immovable object.

Since stereotypes about New Yorkers and their rude attitudes abound, other people worry that my Pollyanna-style approach to life will cause me to be eaten alive in the big city.

Recently I was talking about this move with a very dear and trusted friend.  T. looked at me and said, “I was telling my daughter about you.  I told her how you always see everything so positively and that you always look for the good in every person.  You’re the kind of person who would ask a bank robber if they’d done it because they needed money for food! You need to protect yourself a little more otherwise you’re going to get used and hurt. New York isn’t going to be safe for you!”

I smiled as I replied, “I know, but here’s what I understand about myself.  I look at the world in a positive light because I’ve tried operating from the self-protection side, and you know what?  It didn’t make me happy.  I want to see things in a positive light because that’s what I believe is possible, and I’m happiest when I’m living in a way that leaves the world around me a little brighter.” I understood exactly what she meant, though, and I took it as a compliment because I know we love and respect each other.  I really do believe that, in the end, only kindness matters.

I’m still scared, though. I don’t want to let people down, but more than that, I don’t want to let me down.

And that’s where Frank enters the story.

When I get ready to teach my routine includes tuning into a radio station that I laughingly call “Crack Radio” [it’s actually Doug 93.1 FM].  The station’s tag line is “We play everything,” and  do they ever.  The result is a wacky mix that never fails to strike a chord in me.  When I tuned in yesterday the Boss was belting out “No Surrender,” which was followed by “Only the Good Die Young,” and “I Won’t Back Down.” I laughed out loud and shook my head as I returned to getting ready – and thinking about my dream-related fears.  I had just settled in to the beginnings of a “flash flood” (when my brain opens up and unleashes the full fury of my thoughts in a torrential downpour) when I heard the quiet opening notes.

Sinatra’s strong, clear voice floated out of the little speaker, “And now, the end is near/So I face the final curtain.”   His tone was calm, but resigned to the knowledge that this was the end. “Regrets, I’ve had a few;/But then again, too few to mention/I did what I had to do/And saw it through without exemption.”  Both the music and Frank’s voice rose as he exclaimed “I’m sure there were times you knew/When I bit off more than I could chew.”  I stood still, listening to him confidently declare “I faced it all and I stood tall/And did it my way!”  Tears welled up in my eyes, as the Chairman lowered his voice and sang “I’ve loved, I’ve laughed, and cried/I’ve had my fill; my share of losing.” Frank understood me, and as the music swelled for the final verse, my tears flowed freely.  I lifted my chin, straightened my shoulders, and faced myself in the mirror as Frank belted out the final verse, “For what is a man, what has he got?/If not himself, then he has naught./To say the things he truly feels;/And not the words of one who kneels./The record shows I took the blows -/And did it my way!”

At that moment, I knew that no matter how scared I might feel as I work toward New York City, I’m not going to quit.  I can’t control what’s going to happen at the end of this journey, but I can say with absolute certainty – I’m going to do it my way.

And I know that Old Blue Eyes has my back.

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