This is my new album, a long time in the making. I have posted the music in posts since I started this blog, but now you can kick back and listen to it in it’s entirety. This is not the music for for Jamie’s book, Inside The Forbidden Outside, also a long time in the making. That music has special meaning for certain chapters. When everything is done I mean for that music to be listened to while you read so you can feel the emotions of what he has been through all these years in prison.
Someone who hasn’t been through juvenile detention or prison, or doesn’t know someone who has been inside, can’t understand, not really. I never knew; how could I, if all I had to go on were TV shows or movies that never really told the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God? We assume we know, but we don’t. All of my writings, including the blog posts here are what I have learned over the years.
This first album has selections that have been recorded over the past three years as I developed my ability to improvise. You can listen, but you can’t download it because I still need to copyright and license it. It will then be sold – hopefully. That is the plan. That is the mountain I am determined to move.
I believe my music has a different quality that is all my own because it is 100% improvised when I record, based on emotions I felt at the time. The second album will be a soundtrack for the book. I don’t believe anything like this has been done. A soundtrack for a book? Can I do it? This first album is a way of getting my feet wet and see if others enjoy listening to what I play. Will other people see the value in it? If you want to, leave comments at the different music websites so I know.
The music comes from a place in me I didn’t know was there. How can music be played with a beginning, middle and end with a recurring feel and theme without knowing what is going to be played – and plan of what is coming next? I feel it and let my hands play it. Most of the time I don’t listen back for days or even weeks. I want to listen to it as a stranger would.
If I do listen back right away it’s because it hit me hard and I had to hear what I played. It’s hard to explain. The piece “K’lee” did that to me. I sit on a stool when I play. Almost standing. When I finished playing I felt like I had been punched in the gut and all the air was pushed out of me. It swallowed me. Where did that music come from? I grabbed my husband, who was walking through the room and made him listen. “Close your eyes. What do you see? Put it into words.” At first he said he did listen while I was playing it. He said it was nice. I said, “No, listen to it – not passively.” He did. When it was over he thought for a minute, then described a sunrise, bursting in color as it broke the horizon. He did see it. It was really the first positive, real feedback I had gotten from him that told me he heard me.
How can I do that? I never used to write like this. I wrote songs. Although I do write poetry, where before I wrote lyrics, it is now the only way I play music. I could never do cover tunes again. I have no interest in redoing someone’s music. Maybe someday, but not now – not to just get gigs. My goal is to play gigs again, but it is me they get, not my ability to copy other songs.
People like to hear old songs because of the memories that come with it. Oldies take you back to a time and let you relive a memory. If I don’t do cover music will that make it harder to find work? Maybe. It will depend on how well I brand myself and how people respond to my music. At this point in my life I think I’ve earned the right to play my music not copy something someone else wrote
Music is my passion. I hear it in everything, even when no one else can. I hear it in the air as life unfolds. Life events evokes emotion. If music surrounds something in our life and when we hear music that was played then it takes us immediately to that time and we let it wash over us. In those few moments we are once again at that age or in that time no matter how long ago it was. We want to remember. Sometimes that memory is painful and sometimes it represents love. Music let’s us feel the emotion again however brief it is. At that moment it is real again.
After I record, the music is gone, out of my head. But I can play for hours going from one emotion to another. Sometimes I lose confidence and wonder if I can play ” on demand” for a couple hours so I go to the piano, and yes, I can do it. When I tap into this part of me that gives form to the emotions I feel, those feelings are real. I’m an overly emotional person. I rarely play happy music in a major key. I usually play in a minor key which is often melancholy, painful, aching and deep – yet peaceful and relaxing. Beautiful melodies. For me it is like meditating.
The best way to listen is in a dark room. Speakers on a device or laptop don’t play quality sounds. I tried ear buds. They were just as bad. The sounds were tinny, but maybe I used lousy earbuds. For me, head phones resonate with feeling – or if you have good computer speakers. To feel the story in my music, listen to the entire thing. The end pulls the beginning back together. To not hear the entire story is like not finishing a book. I know this from my own listening when I hear it as a stranger, like you.
I have been writing music since I was a child and it has grown and changed as I’ve aged. I could hear and feel music then but didn’t know how to express it. I didn’t have the technical skill to play what I heard in my head. I knew had had to figure out how to let go, trust that my hands knew what to play. When we speak we don’t think of every letter in every word before for speak a sentence so we can structure our thoughts. We just speak. We trust that the words coming out will mean what we want them to mean. Music is a language.
During my life I learned everything I could, like a person learning to speak another language. I have written songs most of my life but for decades I can’t honestly say it came from inside me. They were written because technically I knew how to put them together because I knew the theory. My arrangements were very classically oriented. I wrote charts and piano arrangements for others, long before computers spit them out. Anyone can “learn” music theory and can practice until they are competent but take away the music and they can’t play something new.
Knowing music theory knowledge you can always always make it come out right. But something will be missing. My improvisations don’t work right when I sit down at the keyboard without knowing the emotion of why I’m playing. I can’t force it. I might as well practice scales and finger exercises, which I often do.
There are different kinds of musicians. Those that practice until they can play a piece perfectly – like classical musicians. They are lost without the music. They learn the emotion of the music by reading the symbols on the music which tells them how to play the note; very softly (pp) or to linger a second (fermata) or gradually get louder (<).
Young musicians seek fame and fortune. They haven’t been players long enough. Musicians today often don’t take the time to learn their craft. So much is all electronic. Freddie the drum machine is used too much, not understanding drums is the heart beat. Drum machines are stale. They don’t breath. There is no split section human element where a drum may be hit with a slightly different touch. I’d like to hear hip hop use a real drummer. That’s why most people my age don’t like it. There is no life. Just fast talking and a drum machine.
I ruined my voice singing in clubs. I pushed it too hard. Clubs were smoky. I had to stop – for awhile, thought. I was arrogant. I could have continued and played keyboards. I had both a piano and a synth. But my ego didn’t want to be someone’s side man. I was used to fronting the band.
My life flew by while raising my kids. I began to get sick and doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong for a long time. I had Hepatitis C. It wasn’t well known then because AIDS dominated medical news. I tried the only possible remedy. Interferon with ribavirin. It made me very sick and it didn’t work. I didn’t know what else to do.
I packed up my life, my kids were grown, pulled a U-haul behind my white Mustang and drove from California to Key West. To start making money right away I got a job as asst manager at a Ripley’s Believe it Not Museum. I bought a bicycle for transportation. I took care of my health the best I could and went into denial. I moved many times in my life. If I needed to call any place home it would be Key West. I was there for ten years. I knew deep down I knew my health was in trouble.
My last paying gigs were in Key West in 2002. My voice couldn’t hold up. Callouses on my vocal cords would swell and nothing came out. I was a good player but there was something missing. I retired. I didn’t know how to play without singing. I was lost. I felt like my legs were cut off. I lost my identity. I had no right to call myself a musician anymore and that was devastating.
Two things happened that changed my life. I met Jamie in 2005. He was my daughter’s boyfriend. The second thing is my Hep C fell of a cliff and took me with it. Every possible thing that could go wrong, did go wrong. It became end stage liver disease, I developed two cancerous tumors and I swelled with 60 lbs of fluid and looked 9 months pregnant.
My husband and I decided, unfortunately, to move closer to my family which was within driving distance of a good hospital known for their transplant team. I say unfortunately because my family really didn’t want me there and let me know not to expect any help from them, or any help for my husband my husband. I was bedridden for two years. Soon after surgery my back fractured so add a back brace to the mix. But I didn’t die and things began to change. After it seemed pretty certain I was going to make it the doctors explained how close I came to not making it.
Beginning in Key West Jamie and I had been writing letters. I was his support in prison. He was getting no support, emotionally or financially from his family, either. How was he supposed to buy hygiene products or stamps? Why won’t anyone answer his letters. How was he to handle his depression. A 17 year sentence is a long time if you have no one. We became reach other’s family. It will be 13 years in January. He’s in the home stretch.
I sat down at the piano one day, sad, thinking about what Jamie was going through. I wasn’t thinking about writing music in any particular key, I just played how I felt. It was amazing. My hands DID know what they were doing without my telling them what to play. I had no way to record it. I put a recording app on my Nook and put it close to the speaker. It would have to do. It sounded so tinny. This is the first piece I recorded in 2014.
I titled it “Jamie”
After that I got a better program and recorded it into my computer. Then I bought a better piano. I got better. My piano improv tells stories. You can’t tap a beat with your foot. I play with a lot of syncopation. Sometimes I hit a wrong note. It now belongs there. It took a long time to put this album together, choosing what to put in You won’t know why certain songs were played. I always record when I play. I don’t keep everything. Now I am learning what to do to license and copyright and sell it on any of the music sites like CDBaby or iTunes. I don’t know if anyone would want to buy it. But if I don’t try then I can know for sure that no one would buy it.
The benefit of getting sick and living through something brutally hard, was I now appreciated the value of living on a whole different level. Life isn’t to be wasted. There are no do-overs. We shouldn’t worry about what others think because they don’t live our lives, we do. It’s our life to live. Do what makes you happy. Don’t live with fear. We’re all going to die anyway. So here I am, 63 and I “unretired” my music career.
I recently had a photo shoot and there were several shots of just my hands on the keyboard. My husband said, “Don’t use them, your hands look old.” So what? They still work. I can’t pretend I’m in my 30’s, because I’m not – and I’m going to get older. I had to get over that thought real fast or it could make me cave in to it.
Last year I had my upper arm bone replaced with titanium as well as my elbow. I was told by my doctor, “Don’t be disappointed if you can’t use it,” He was trying to make me accept the fact that I was screwed. I wasn’t going to let it beat me. I am who I am and my music is what it is because of what I’ve been through during these years I lived. I’m not done yet. My age is a positive, not a negative. I’m going to play music until my fingers fall off.
Oh yes, I’m a bit crazy. I have plans. I’m alive. I don’t care if it is hard. Don’t tell me I can’t do something. It is up to me to decided that. If I didn’t believe in myself I’d stop trying. It took me this long to understand – you have to know where you are going or your life will just slap you around. It doesn’t matter if I’m not young. Youth is not the ball and end all of life, and life is over just because I’m getting older. Wisdom and life experience also has it’s place.
For whatever reason, Jamie and I met at a point in our lives that was the right time. We needed each other to survive. The road we need to travel is far from over. I’ve helped him keep it together. He gave me a purpose. Along the way I’ve been able to encourage many others going through this very same thing as their husband, children or boyfriend has gotten sucked into the system. There are millions of people who have been thrown away, many of them should not have been.
I don’t think Jamie would have been okay. Knowing there is someone on the outside who cares has given him the strength to keep trying. He has no idea any of the things I’ve done except what I have described it to him. He said, in his last letter, he would someday hear me play the piano. We have given each other something to live for.
ReverbNation . . . Website of Indie music not on traditional radio stations. Sonni’s featured page.
SkunkRadioLive . . . Indie radio station out of London playing music composed for the book being written for Jamie. If you can, help support by sharing the music and leaving a comment or following. Thank you to those who have.
I’m a prisoner in California serving a life sentence. This blog really isn’t about me, it’s about us, prisoners who grew up in dysfunctional environments. It will explain why we’ve made the terrible choices we made and how many of us are now struggling to change our lives. There’s a biased belief in society that continues to be passed along and hopefully this blog will show the other side to that negative belief. This blog is for the parents of women unable to openly express their love for a man in chains, to educators of our youth, parents and the lost, I hope these words give you hope and understanding. Hope that change is possible and understanding that we are able to give back something to the world.
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