Wrote about Jackie Venson for Guitar World. In the March 2018 issue and online here.
If Joni Mitchell never broke your heart, you maybe never even had one to begin with.
No one can make you feel like Joni Mitchell can. Her words fill your body with both immense, overwhelming joy and sorrow. They make tears sting your eyes, make you gasp for breath, make you feel the weight of them in your gut.
Nowhere can this be seen better than side B of Blue, perhaps one of the most perfectly sequenced and emotionally loaded sides of any album, ever. She coats her jagged lyrics with a syrupy sweet voice; her songs are sugar dusted knives — they stab at your heart, but they’re addictive. You still crave more, still can’t wait to flip the record and start all over, knowing full well how much it will hurt. Why else do you think we feel the compulsive need to listen to “River” around Christmastime?
Joni made it okay for women to be imperfect creatures, to write about their faults and failures with candor — I’m so hard to handle, I’m selfish and I’m sad— made it okay for women to be unhappy and unsure — I’m just living on nerves and feelings with a weak and a lazy mind. Joni made it okay to make mistakes, to love deeply, to love the wrong person because sometimes your heart speaks louder than your brain — I see him in cafes, and I only say hello and turn away before his lady knows how much I want to see him. She made it okay to be honest. She made it okay to feel.
All human beings should be required to listen to Joni Mitchell, the same way we all have to read The Great Gatsby in the 8th grade. I can’t imagine a better way to learn about empathy, emotions, and the human condition. We should teach her lyrics the way we teach poetry (because lyrics are literature), should teach the significance of her unique chord progressions in music classes, should teach her impact and the multiple roads she paved for women in history classes.
We should teach our children about Joni Mitchell because she is Joni Mitchell. There was no one before her, and there will never be another one.
If you couldn’t guess from her lyrics, you would immediately be able to tell from the eloquence, candor, and unabashed honesty of Carly Simon’s speech that, if you hadn’t yet read her memoir “Boys in the Trees,” you were in for a ride.
Simon brought her new book to life Wednesday night in discussion with author and journalist Sheila Weller, who had previously written about Simon in her 2008 biography “Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon — and the Journey of a Generation.”
“Few women writers in any genre write as passionately about love as you do,” Weller noted. Simon is part of a small group of female rock stars who have paved the way for women today, spending the past forty years writing, singing, and talking publicly about love — and sex — openly, freely, and with a refusal to let society shame them. “Boys in the Trees” is an extension of that, picking up where her lyrics left off.
“I am not a person who lets go of the past easily,” Simon said. But there’s no bitterness or regret when she reflects on it, from a childhood marred by a debilitating stammer and family secrets to a storybook marriage dreamed of with ex-husband James Taylor crumbling under the strain of his drug addiction.
Nor was there any salaciousness when Simon spoke at length about the famous men in her life, including Warren Beatty and Mick Jagger, as well as Taylor, leaving the audience hanging onto every velvety smooth word. Rather, Simon’s seduction of an audience lies in her ability to speak and write from a sensitive, vulnerable, and deeply caring woman’s perspective.
Every word, every description drips with poetic romanticism. Chemistry with Mick Jagger while recording “You’re So Vain” was like “trying to stay within a pink gravity that was starting to loosen its silky grip on me.” She likens her relationship with Taylor to music, like they were a perfect fourth, the reedy tone of his voice piercing through her husk. Even after the end of their marriage, he still has a place in her heart, she said, as if her body contains a part of his DNA. Her biggest revelation: “I’ve stopped trying to stop loving. The parts that were loving are still in me. They’re still there.”
Although “Boys in the Trees” is largely about her relationships with men, there’s more to it than that.
“Pay attention to who you like. You can imitate them — you’ll get your own voice,” Simon advised young women. No, “Boys in the Trees” isn’t a story just about the boys. It’s a story about how one woman stopped emulating other voices and eventually found her own.
This piece originally appeared on Inspirer
by Desarae Gabrielle and Carrie Courogen
New York native soprano Pat Benatar came crashing onto the rock and roll scene ready to change the landscape of the male dominated music industry. Four time Grammy award winning Benatar kick-started her lengthy list of accomplishments by being the first female artist to be played on MTV — performing her hit “You Better Run” on August 1, 1981 — later becoming one of the most heavily featured artists on the network. Benatar was among the wave of female pioneers who took the Top 40 singles chart by storm – 15 of her songs were featured on the chart which included popular singles “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “We Belong,” and “Love is a Battlefield.” Benatar’s first single “Heartbreaker” propelled the rock star to platinum status with her debut album In The Heat of the Night.
After a tour date at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, co-headlining with Melissa Etheridge, we spoke to Benatar about her history in rock music as a feminist, her memoir Between a Heart and a Rock Place, her inspirations and more.
What was it like to be the first woman played on MTV?
Thrilling, odd, crazy and fun. We had no idea what was about to happen — we thought we were just doing another performance video that would be shown on TV. The idea that the video would be played 24 hours a day — was unfathomable. In one week, our lives were forever changed.
Did you feel any sort of pressure to play to the changing landscape of the music industry or play to that video star persona?
Absolutely not, we were part of that emerging landscape. We were creating the video star persona organically, we were just being ourselves.
Getting control of your career and fighting the over-sexualization of your image wasn’t an easy thing to do. What was that battle like?
The struggle to take control of the image was difficult. When it was my idea, it worked, but it was very limiting and became tedious. But of course, by that time, the record company had a winning combination and fought hard to keep it, we fought constantly and bitterly for the rest of our time there.
Catch A Rising Star was a place where a lot of comics got their breaks. What attracted you to it as a singer?
I was living in Richmond, VA playing in a local band and going to school. I had read an article in the New York times about Catch, it mentioned that up and coming singers could audition there as well. I missed New York so much and wanted to go home, it was the perfect excuse.
How did The Zinger shape your transition into rock and roll from a more lounge inspired style?
The Zinger was such a campy production, it really was more musical theater than rock and roll. It didn’t really have much of an influence on my future career. Working with young songwriters at Catch, helped me find my voice. And of course, meeting my muse, Neil Giraldo, putting the band together and working side by side was the most important factor — the catalyst that propelled everything forward.
How do you think your career has influenced your daughters’ endeavors?
As for our youngest, Hana, who is the singer songwriter, she was born feisty! I’m sure some of it’s genetic, but she is a highly motivated, talented, tornado. Her genre of music is vastly different from ours. Our oldest daughter, Haley is a designer. I think — I hope– both of our daughters witnessed the power of hard work and commitment from both parents. They certainly saw first hand what can be accomplished as a female. They are both very smart, confident, kind and talented young women.
You were nominated for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance eight times are tied for most wins in the category. The category merge in 2005 came with a lot of scrutiny on both sides of the argument. On one side, there’s the idea that distinguishing male and female vocals is sexist and they should be judged together. But the other side is that, since the merge, only six women have been nominated, even though there’s certainly not a lack of outstanding female performances each
year. What are your thoughts?
This is always such a difficult topic. I have mixed feelings — I hate the idea of being singled out as a “Female Rocker.” It defeats the entire argument that we are all the equal. At the same time, the sheer number of males versus females will always tip the scale. Because of the era grew up in, it’s hard to shake that nagging rub, that being separated, labeled as “female” in some way is a slight, a way to subliminally suggest inferiority. It’s interesting, because personally, I don’t feel that way at all. I’m proud, so secure, and even a little arrogant when it comes to being a woman. I wait for the day when that feeling permeates everything!
How has your self-identification as a feminist influenced your career and the ways you’ve given back to the music community?
Yes, definitely. Mentoring young women is where my heart is. Having two daughters has made it my mission.
What about the music industry would you like to see change, from a feminist perspective? Why were you reluctant to write your memoir Between a Heart and a Rock Place?
There has been so much progress in the music industry, but the old prejudices and ideas still exist. Old habits die hard! Thankfully, we now have laws and legislation to protect us, for the most part. There is still much to be done. I do feel confident that women today, are very aware and take a strong, passionate stance about their rights. I thoroughly enjoyed writing Between a Heart and a Rock Place. I was a little reluctant to write it because of the time necessary to get it done properly. I only said yes because they promised I’d have help. The co-writer, Patsi Bale Cox, came to me and said, ”You can do this. You should do this. It needs to be in your own voice.” So I did. She helped me organize the stories and all my thoughts and then she pushed me “out of the nest.” In the end, she was right and I loved every moment of the process.
You were on the We Live For Love Tour with your husband Neil and singer Melissa Etheridge through the summer. You chose to continue to play in states where anti-LGBTQ laws were passed, such as Mississippi and North Carolina. Why is that?
Neil (Spyder) and I have been staunch advocates for LGBTQ rights for 37 years. We felt that we could better serve the community by continuing to support them the way we always have, by standing in defiance, to those who seek to squash their rights. We discussed this with Melissa and she agreed.
What social issues inspire you to try to make change in the world?
Hunger, children’s rights, the elderly’s rights, women’s rights, animal rights, racial and sexual equality — we don’t have enough time. We all have the ability to make changes in the world, everyone has the power to do good.
If you could give your 25-year-old self advice, what would it be?
My 25-year-old self? You are about to begin an amazing adventure, do not be afraid! Listen to your gut, it’s always right. Be kind, be loving, be smart. All you have at the end of the day is the people you love and who love you, and your integrity. Lighten up and try to have a little fun along the way.
To read our full interview with Pat Benatar, order Inspirer’s fall issue here!
When most high schoolers were studying for their SATs and learning to drive, Greta Morgan was embarking on her first arena tour, opening for acts like Fall Out Boy and The All-American Rejects.
As co-founder of Chicago-based band The Hush Sound, Morgan lent her heartfelt lyrics to the band’s mid-2000s indie rock sound with popular songs like “Hurricane” and “Medicine Man.” When The Hush Sound went on hiatus after three albums in 2009, Morgan pursued side projects both as part of a band (Gold Motel) and solo (Springtime Carnivore).
The Hush Sound reunited for an EP in 2013, and recently announced a tour commemorating the 10 year anniversary of their best-selling album, “Like Vines.” We caught up with Morgan as she prepped for tour to talk songwriting, inspiration, and defining success.
Starting out, your background was based in classical training. How did you find yourself gravitating towards a rock band?
I was never a good classical musician. I took classical piano lessons as a kid, but I would learn two or three bars of a classical piece, and then start writing my own thing based on it. I was always naturally on the path to composing my own music since I was a little kid. I started writing songs and playing with various friends for fun, then I met Bob [Morris, singer and guitarist for The Hush Sound] when I was 14 and he was 16 or 17 and we started writing music together. It was pretty natural after that, but I was focused on school at the time. I was in high school and studying for my ACTs and SATs, and I wasn’t that focused on the band becoming a real thing. I think the boys had more of an idea that it could take off.
So when it did really take off, especially when you were so young, what did that feel like?
It was a really pleasant surprise. Being a full-time musician was a very secret dream of mine, one I probably wouldn’t say out loud, because in the Midwest, I just thought it sounded so silly. There’s this Midwest modesty everyone is supposed to have. So, when we were signed, I kept it really quiet. I was going to this strict Catholic high school, and I knew I would have to leave during my senior year to go on this huge tour for six weeks. I think I told the other kids I had mono. I left for six weeks and we played all of these huge places on a gigantic arena tour as the opening act. Then, I came back to school, put on my uniform, and took my finals and didn’t make a fuss about it.
It’s been 10 years since the “Like Vines” record came out. What’s changed since then?
Well, I’ve played in two other musical incarnations since then. I had a band called Gold Motel, which released two records, and now I have a project called Springtime Carnivore. Bob has a project called Le Swish, Chris [Faller, bassist] has been touring with various artists, and Darren [Wilson, drummer] went back to school full time. Three out of four of us are still in music full time.
After The Hush Sound, what led you to pursue different projects like Gold Motel and Springtime Carnivore?
I think a band is like any relationship. Some can last a lifetime and be renewed and recharged all the time, and some have a natural ending. I think it can be really sad and can become cheesy when a band makes music past the point where it feels really inspired. We were at a point as a band where we weren’t having fun anymore and it was hard to creatively refuel.
We love each other as people — there will always be this deep sibling type of bond between us — but it seemed like it was time for everybody to do their own thing. And I’ve noticed that a lot of fans can can connect with a band almost the way they connect with a family. When they hear a band is breaking up, it’s like a much softer version of hearing that their parents are getting divorced. But the thing is, we would rather only work together in ways that truly feel inspired and profound.
Ten year anniversary concerts have been really popular this year — from Jack’s Mannequin doing “Everything in Transit” to Jenny Lewis touring behind “Rabbit Fur Coat” — and everyone has their own reasons to revisit an album in full. What were yours?
We had wanted to do some sort of tour like this, and we weren’t really sure which record to do. Then, it just seemed pretty obvious that it should be the best-selling one, plus, I think “Like Vines” might be the most beloved.
When you reread or sing songs you wrote so long ago, how does it feel? Every writer has their own process. Do you think “Oh, I’m so much better now,” or are you surprised by how good you were?
I was actually just having this conversation with Jenny Lewis when I went to one of her “Rabbit Fur Coat” shows. We were talking about how interesting it is that some songs, in a weird way, sort of end up becoming predictive of the future. There are a few songs that I wrote a few songs that weirdly have become true this year. The song “Hurricane” is about the end of a deep, deep love and never being able to outrun the memory of a person. This year, I had a breakup with someone I had been with for six years that was that profound. I thought, “How did I write that song at 19, when I had never really felt the depths of the feelings that are expressed in that song?”
Some songs are certainly a little embarrassing. It’d be like if you had to wear the same outfit you wore 10 years ago and walk around in it today. But, if there’s a song I feel uncomfortable with for some reason, I try to change my relation to it. If I think the lyrics are bad or I don’t relate to them anymore, then I try to find joy in singing it, or playing the musical part, or looking at my bandmates at that moment, or connecting with someone in the audience. There are all these different aspects to a song and to a performance. If one doesn’t feel right or makes you feel uncomfortable, then the trick is to focus on something else.
If you could tell your 10 years ago self anything, what would it be?
Don’t take it too seriously! There have been so many ups and downs. I’ve learned to not take the ups and downs so seriously. If I’ve made it this far, for 12 years, there are going to continue to be ups and downs. Chris Coady [producer and mixing engineer for Springtime Carnivore, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beach House, etc.] said, “Having lots of ups and downs in your career is the key to longevity.” Which I thought was funny, but true. You have a success, you might have a failure. Those words — success and failure — are so loaded that I would also say “Define what success actually means to you and go for that.”
And what does success mean to you?
To me, it means being able to communicate openly, honestly, and directly to anyone who wants to listen, and ideally being able to support myself without doing harm to the world. I have such sympathy for friends whose labels or producers control their creative output. The most simple part of music is that you’re sending out your radio wave, and if someone else is going in there and remodeling it and glossing it over, manicuring it and turning it into something you’re not, then it really isn’t your true wavelength.
What artists have had the most influence on you?
Well, with the passing of David Bowie and Prince, I started thinking about whose deaths would really affect me. I think Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell would be really, really intense and profound for me. I know he’s already passed, but I also love George Harrison. He’s a huge influence. As far as contemporaries, I really love Kurt Vile and Joanna Newsom. And, a lot of my friends are influences on me, sometimes more than anything.
Do you have any advice for other young women?
The most important part of creativity in general is figuring out who you are first and getting your spirit in line. Be cautious of expectations. Don’t relate your happiness to the expectations you’re creating — just try to enjoy the experience. There are a lot of young people who try to rush as much as possible. Just enjoy the process. Each step of the process goes faster the more that you enjoy it.
For more information about The Hush Sounds’s “Like Vines” 10 year anniversary tour, visit the band’s official Facebook.
Upcoming Tour Dates:
May 31 — San Diego, CA — The Casbah
June 1 — West Hollywood, CA — The Troubadour
June 2 — San Francisco, CA — Social Hall SF
June 4 — Santa Cruz, CA — The Catalyst
June 9 — Santa Cruz, CA — The Catalyst
August 3 — Allston, MA — Brighton Music Hall
August 4 — New York, NY — Webster Hall
August 5 — Philadelphia, PA — The Foundry Philadelphia
August 6 — Washington, DC — U Street Music Hall
August 7 — Pittsburgh, PA — Club AE
August 8 — Columbus, OH — A and R Music Bar
August 9 — Detroit, MI — The Shelter
August 10 — Chicago, IL — Thalia Hall