Watching you grow and going through the changes in your life

Olivia Newton-John made a huge career change in 1973, from a burgeoning pop darling in the UK to a Grammy-Winning Female Country Artist in the US. During that same year, almost everything in my young life changed as well. I had a new home and my very own bedroom for the first time. I had a dad, and a new last name, and three new sets of aunts and uncles, and three new cousins, and a second set of extraordinarily kind and loving grandparents. Everyone in my new family loved me as if I were one of their own, and so far as I knew at that time, I was. I still feel that way today. Nonetheless, I missed living in the home and with the grandparents whom I had lived with since the beginning of my memory. My mom and I rode up and down a ten-mile stretch of country highway countless times to visit Grandma and Grandpa at their big green house on Gracia Street after we moved out of their home. Olivia Newton-John’s angelic voice was also new to me that year. The lyrics of “Let Me Be There” floated through the radio airwaves from the surrounding country music stations into our El Camino and into my young mind during so many of those car rides. “Wherever you go, wherever you may wander in your life, surely you know, I always wanna be thereWatching you grow and going through the changes in your life, that’s how I know I always wanna be there…” Her soothing voice was an invisible security blanket surrounding me.

during the Let Me Be There days, of 1973, age 4

Everything about Olivia was intriguingly foreign to me, her golden blonde hair and sparkling eyes, and her skin, the very definition of a peaches and cream complexion. She was country, but she didn’t have that cowgirl country style like other artists I admired at the time, Tanya and Loretta and Dolly. And she didn’t have their southern drawl either. I was awed by her distinctive part-Aussie/part British accent on familiar country staples like “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Country Roads, Take Me Home,” and “Angel of the Morning.” The genuine sweetness and light that emanated from her in television appearances also contributed to my placing Olivia ahead of Linda, Cher, Michael, and even Barbra, earning my greatest admiration of all musicians at that point in my life.

Not everyone embraced this new foreign songbird. In addition to earning a Grammy for Let Me Be There, Olivia was also awarded Country Music Association Female Country Vocalist that year, which created a rift in the country music industry. George Jones led an outbreak of nearly 50 artists to form the Association of Country Entertainers (ACE) in order to “preserve the identity of country music as a separate and distinct form of American entertainment.” There were never any new George Jones records at our house after that. And by 1975, even Tammy left George and got herself a D-I-V-O-R-C-E.

Throughout the mid-1970s, Olivia released six albums that were “certified gold” and produced 15 chart-topping singles. Her albums were always birthday or Christmas wish list items granted to me. My mom and dad were also fans of her music, and her reputation as a good human also made Olivia an ideal heroine for their young daughter, obsessed with becoming an entertainer. At that time in my life, Broadway was my primary objective for my future. I was shy and awkward around other kids, but yes, please, put me in front of my family with a record player and my latest favorite LP record, and I would sing and dance as long as anyone was willing to listen and watch (and long after that, actually). I spent countless hours alone in front of my bedroom mirror rehearsing in preparation for my big break. I was also more than willing to perform in the grocery store if an Olivia tune came over the PA, after all, a talent scout might be right there in the cereal aisle of the IGA. Yes, I really believed this. I had heard Olivia, and many of my other musical idols interviewed by Dinah Shore, Mike Douglas, or Johnny Carson, talking about how they were discovered. I didn’t know talent scouts didn’t roam the streets of rural Missouri towns. I spent the 1970s, assured that I’d find my way to Broadway one day.

I wholeheartedly encourage you to watch the performance of “Let Me Be There” and the interview that follows.

In 1978, my country and Broadway music obsessions merged, when Olivia played the role of Sandy in the film adaptation of Grease. I wanted to wear my dad’s letterman’s sweater with turtlenecks and saddle shoes and pull my hair into a long curled ponytail wrapped in a scarf for school each day, and I did. I didn’t really care what kids thought of my 1950s wardrobe, I thought it was cool. My mom and Grandma always supported my creative endeavors, by sewing skirts and dresses to encourage my hopeless devotion to my various music-inspired personas throughout elementary school.

during my Grease obsession, 1978, age 9

No other album before or since has provided the intensely thrilling sensation that the ten tracks of the Xanadu soundtrack elicited in this 11-year-old superfan of Olivia Newton-John in 1980. Olivia’s single “Magic was released during the week of my eleventh birthday, which I, of course, found not at all coincidental, but rather, purely magical. I was absolutely enchanted, wholeheartedly believing in the magic of those lyrics. Every word of that song resonated with truth and kept me dreaming about finding my place in the entertainment world. We have to believe we are magic, nothing can stand in our way.

I’d become a fan of Electric Light Orchestra’s music during weekend visits to the local roller rink, so the concept of a film that would feature the music of my favorite band of the time and the music of Olivia, as the lead character in the film was so intriguing that I wished my summer between fifth and sixth grade away, in anticipation of the film’s opening day. Three other singles, “I’m Alive” and “All Over the World both by Electric Light Orchestra, and the title track, a collaboration from both artists, were all released throughout the summer in advance of the film. The film finally hit screens across the country on August 8, 1980. My mom, brother, and I made a trip to Kansas City to see it, and that three-hour car ride to the city felt like days. We went to the theater in a lovely district of Kansas City, designed to replicate Seville, Spain with dozens of gorgeous fountains and sculptures in addition to about 15 blocks of shops and restaurants housed in Spanish-inspired architecture. It is genuinely a beautiful, romantic space. There could not have been a more inspiring setting in my home state for me to see Xanadu for the first time.

Xanadu did not disappoint, not me, anyway. The critics, however, had a very different opinion of this musical love story on roller skates that includes disco and big band music, Disney-esque animation, Greek mythology, and 18th-century poetry, set in 1980s Los Angeles. The amazingly-high-tech-for-its-time special effects brought the nine Muses to life from a mural on the Venice Beach Boardwalk within minutes of the film’s opening. This is where we first see Kira, the roller-skating muse, one of the nine daughters of Zeus, played by Olivia Newton-John. Her sisters are a multi-racial ensemble of goddesses, a boldly inspiring cinematic interpretation in 1980. After witnessing Xanadu, I had to update my skating wardrobe to emulate my new screen heroine, by adorning my white roller skates with leg warmers. I also wore frilly peasant blouses and flowing prairie skirts of pastel floral prints to the roller rink. I hung nine (one for each of the muses) of my grandma’s scarves from an elastic belt around my waist, and wrapped shoulder-length strands of ribbon around my hair barrettes, in an effort to replicate the muses’ attire as I floated around the rink floor at Topp Cats. Yep, I really did that. Watching this video today, I can recall the magically inspiring energy of Xanadu coursing through my body, and the muscle memory in the pivot of my feet as I skated to “I’m Alive”.

After coming to life in the first few minutes of the film, Olivia as Kira, roller skates up and down the city’s coast from Zuma Beach in Malibu to the Boardwalk in Venice to bring two music-loving, but disgruntled-by-the-industry, individuals together to convert the once illustrious, but then decaying architectural icon, the Pan Pacific Auditorium, into a roller-disco-meets-big-band-nightclub. Once she brings the two men together at the venue, she recites Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1797 poem about Kubla Khan’s palace in ancient China to the two dreamers, and magically, Xanadu is rebuilt in Southern California. This scene is followed by a series of musical numbers featuring Olivia dancing alongside the delightfully unmatched genius of none other than Gene Kelly, reprising his portrayal of Danny McGuire from his 1944 film Cover Girl. Until Xanadu, nearly all of my favorite films and Broadway musicals had depicted New York’s entertainment industry and NYC itself–Funny Girl, The Goodbye Girl, Mahogany, Annie, The Wiz, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Xanadu was my first glimpse of the city of Los Angeles, and I was enamored. All this, along with the breathtaking backdrops of the beach and the palm trees and the gorgeous art-deco architecture of Los Angeles, was Xanadu. For a dreamy, pre-teen farmer’s daughter who has lived inside her fantasy of working in the entertainment business since she could walk and talk, I was spellbound. From the moment I saw the opening scene with Gene Kelly playing his clarinet on those majestic red rocks at Zuma Beach, my fascination for NY was magically transported to LA. About a month after seeing Xanadu for the first time, I was required to select an instrument to play in the sixth-grade band. I chose the clarinet because of Gene Kelly’s character.

In June of 1987, I sat on the same stunning red rocks to witness the sun melt into the Pacific for the very first time. It seemed as if I were watching a magic show of the grandest scale. My body trembled in response to the overwhelming sight and sound and smell and feel of the experience. I wrote in my journal that night: “Oh, to think that people live here in this place where they can experience such beauty every day!” It was completely unplanned, my friend had taken me to watch the sunset at Point Dume, having no knowledge of my pre-teen obsession with Xanadu. Since that moment, Zuma Beach has been my place of zen, the most peaceful place on the planet for me. I try to return to that spot whenever I visit Los Angeles. When I am there, like Danny McGuire, I am young again, restored by the memories and the music of my past and renewed by the excitement and anticipation of my life ahead of me.

Moments of zen at Zuma, 34 years apart.

Throughout the 1990s, my twenties, I attempted three romantic relationships, one resulting in an eight-year marriage. I have a whole list of B-17s for those bittersweet memories, if you know what I mean. In 1999, I went to great lengths to find a copy of Olivia’s 1976 Don’t Stop Believin’ album on CD, so that I could include the track “New Born Babe” on a mixtape I named Beautiful. It was a series of sweet songs to ease my newborn daughter to slumber on road trips to visit her dad on tour with various bands. Hearing that album for the first time in two decades, I found myself identifying with nearly all of the other tracks from that album, most that I’d long forgotten, that had held little value to me as a seven-year-old, presented a vocal illustration of the state of my life in the early 2000s. I listened to that album for comfort when the end of my marriage came to pass in 2003.

In 2006. A friend from my college years who shared my deep admiration for Olivia invited me not only to attend Olivia’s performance at the University of Missouri but also to meet her during her Grace and Gratitude tour. I don’t remember if the meeting was before or after her performance. What I do remember, is that it was one of those rare and unforgettable moments when I was mentally preparing to be face to face with a childhood idol and worried that they might be ego-maniacal and off-putting and would crush my childhood dreams. Olivia was incredibly gracious, more lovely than I could ever have hoped she would be. She signed my 1973 Let Me Be There album cover and my 1978 Grease poster. She was so kind in fact, that when I presented her with a drawing from my seven-year-old with a note that read “We love you, Olivia Newton-John,” she got a little teary-eyed and explained that she could not accept it. She said she too had just one little girl who was all grown up now, and that one day when my little girl was all grown up I would treasure this note far more than she ever could. I placed the note inside the album cover and never told my daughter the story because I knew at the time that she would be sad that Olivia had not accepted her gift. I framed the autographed album cover shortly after that evening. Recently, I took it down and I discovered that note. Olivia was exactly right, I told my grown-up daughter the story of Olivia’s grace as we listened to Let Me Be There together. There is something truly, deeply magical about hearing the crackles and skips in the exact same places where they were when I listened to that beloved record 49 years ago.

Me with Olivia, 2006

I’m sad today, it’s really the first day I’ve had a chance to process this sadness. I’ve been sad since August 8, when like magic, she crossed into the ethereal realm on the date of the 42nd anniversary of the release of Xanadu. I just happened to be taking my daughter to a concert in Kansas City that night, and after the concert, my daughter and I drove past that theater where my mom had taken me in 1980. It is also now just a relic of the past, the marquee is blank, like the one on the Pan Pacific in Xanadu. Olivia is Magic. I can’t explain it. I just spent a couple of hours trying my best to find the words, but I can’t. I thought maybe if I wrote this today while listening to my pile of Olivia records, It’d be ok to grieve the loss of someone who said “let me be there” to me when I was a little country girl with big dreams, and I took her at her word. If you are reading this, odds are you’ve also found yourself feeling sad about the loss of Olivia Newton-John because her music and her humanity mattered in your life too. I know she will always be there with me, her music, her magic, her grace and gratitude.

I’ve compiled my favorite tracks from her 1970s country LPs and of course her Xanadu tracks💫

straddle the line in discord and rhyme…yes, the picture’s changing every moment, and your destination, you don’t know it … Rio and Avalon turn 40

Once again, it’s been several months since I’ve shared a note from the listening gallery. I find myself compelled to connect a few of the threads in the musical tapestry of my being, to laud the 40th anniversary of two albums released in May of 1982. I turned thirteen that month, and as had been my birthday tradition for as long as I can remember, my mom bought me a new swimsuit and whatever album I was most obsessed with at that time. That year, it was Rio from Duran Duran. I was captivated by the band’s sound, for me, those layers of synthesizers were a sentimental throwback to Electric Light Orchestra. The music of ELO was composed from a similar bounty of beautifully exotic sounds created by instruments unfamiliar to me, electrified into sonic soaring brilliance. I can still feel the muscle memory in my feet, pivoting around and around the floor at Topp Cats Roller Rink, in time with “Strange Magic” (which could not be more aptly titled) when I first started skating in 1975. And at the other end of my skatings years, “Magic,” a collaborative track between my favorite band and vocalist in 1980, ELO and Olivia Newton-John. From the age of six through twelve, I rolled through nearly every Saturday on eight wheels finding blissful escape from the reality of my existence as a gangly and exceedingly shy daydreamer. I grew from 5’2″ to 6’0″ between 1979 and 1981, which brought about the humiliation of wearing knee braces in sixth and seventh grades. I grew so quickly that I did not know the boundaries of my own body. I once hit my head so hard on the doorframe while exiting the school bus that I was knocked out. Luckily we lived in a small town, the driver borrowed my brother’s house key and went inside to call my Grandma who came and took me to the hospital to be checked for a head injury. In those painfully awkward years, my experience at Topp Cats was other-worldly, pure magic for me. The damp air from the box fans mounted in each corner of the rink blew through my long hair and fluttered the winged sleeves of my Stevie Nicks-inspired blouses and Xanadu-esque flowing peasant skirts. The long skirts were a nod to Olivia Newton-John’s character in the film, but they also served as a way to hide my orthopedic devices in 1980. The music associated with those memories still makes my heart swell with the joy of that fantastic feeling of escape I encountered at Topp Cats more than forty years ago. But in 1982, the layered sounds of Duran Duran would create an entirely new and enthralling level of music-induced intrigue for me.

This band had already arrived in the living rooms of urban teenage Americans in 1981, via MTV. All five members, smoldering with androgynous eyeliner and glossy lips, immediately became the pre-eminent heartthrob poster boys of my generation when their music videos began appearing on this brand new cable network. Cable television was a fairly recent technological innovation in the early 1980s, not yet available in many small towns, including mine. Thus, my initial interest in Duran Duran was strictly auditory. While watching my peers in Philadelphia dance to this exotic new band on American Bandstand, I became enchanted by this very modern European style of synth-pop. Immediately, I needed a copy of “Hungry Like the Wolf.” In the early 1980s, Mom got paid every other Friday. So, every other Saturday, just after watching American Bandstand and Soul Train, our family would drive to another rural town ten miles away, slightly larger than ours, enough so that it had a Pizza Hut and a Wal-Mart. On those payday weekends, our mom treated my brother and me to an exciting lunch “out” consisting of Pizza Hut salad bar, pizza, and sodas in those trendy “collect them all” take-home glasses, featuring characters from popular films and cartoons. Mom always managed to scrounge through her huge purse to find a couple of loose quarters to keep us occupied so that she could thumb through her weekly copy of People magazine while we awaited the arrival of our Personal Pan Pizzas. My quarter was dropped into the jukebox in exchange for three musical selections, while my brother generally opted for a game of Pac-Man. Lunch was always followed by a trip across the street, where our mom shopped for the basic necessities of life for the next two weeks, while my brother and I lingered in front of the American Top 40 end-cap display in the electronics department of Wal-Mart. We were each granted ownership of one new 45RPM record on those shopping trips. On the mid-May payday of 1982, I knew without a doubt my selection would be “Hungry Like the Wolf.” I had no visual reference for what the members of Duran Duran looked like, and when John Taylor’s dark, dreamy eyes looked into mine from under his dashing fedora on the sleeve of that record, I immediately understood what Dolly Parton was talking about back in 1974. Until that moment, whenever I’d heard “Love is like a Butterfly,” her words meant nothing to me. Suddenly I felt those soft wings in flight for the first time.

At the dawn of the 1980s, disco had been splintered into all sorts of new wave fusions of pop and punk and funk and hip hop and reggae. I had never heard reggae or calypso or bossa nova or any sort of Latin jazz music or even those words, nor of other non-American-based music genres, and I certainly had no awareness of their influences on American popular culture in 1982. When I first became aware of Duran Duran, this was the most avant-garde musical experience I’d ever known. They were exotically foreign, excitingly romantic, and entirely unique to me. So many things changed during that summer. I had become free from my leg braces, allowing me a scant bit of confidence in myself. I also had my first full-time job during that momentous summer, babysitting a girl whose family attended the same church as our family. Each morning at 8:00 a.m., her mother dropped her daughter at our home, so that I could also look after my brother. Her parents were married, her father was a lawyer, and in my young mind, they were a family of great wealth. So wealthy, that in addition to paying me $25 a week, they also added my brother and me to their family pool pass. Every day that the sun was shining, right after making lunch and washing the dishes, I’d lead us on a walk to Walt Disney Park. We’d spend the entire afternoon at the pool until her mom picked us up at 4:00 p.m. Within two weeks, I had earned enough money to purchase my first boombox. I also had the money to buy my own clothing and makeup, and all of this was terribly exciting for a teenage girl living in a rural Missouri town, constantly dreaming and scheming my entry into the glittering world of entertainment. Since my earliest memory, I had envisioned the adult version of myself, living in New York or Los Angeles, deeply embedded in music and fashion, while working in some form or another of live theater or film. I began to practice the art of wearing makeup and hot-rolling my hair by carefully following the step-by-step guides in Seventeen Magazine. People began telling my mom, “Your daughter looks like that girl in the Calvin Klein ads…you know, the one from The Blue Lagoon movie.”

Me, summer 1982

There would be other albums on cassette that I would love dearly in the 1980s, but I will never forget that my first was Duran Duran. For the first month, after my mom purchased Rio for me, I had only been able to listen to it on the stereo in the living room. After the purchase of my boombox, Duran Duran could be with me in my bedroom at night. I listened intently to every element of sound and wrote down every lyric in my journal. This was not American pop music. Some of the sounds were instruments unfamiliar to me, and there were sounds of cigarette lighters and car engines and laughter, and salacious sounds, obscured by the many layers of synthesizers. Their words were mysterious, romantic, poetic, and I thought myself so worldly as I lay awake listening, rewinding, listening again, leaving space to add my interpretations of the lyrics between each line in my notebook. Completely unknown to me at the time, the members of Duran Duran, and particularly, John Taylor had been intrigued and inspired by the style and sound of another British band called Roxy Music. In 2019, I would learn of the connection between these two bands when Roxy Music was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Taylor gave a heartfelt introduction, revealing a pivotal moment in time when he was fourteen and listening to Roxy’s first single, “Virginia Plain” on his portable tape recorder, “in my darkened suburban bedroom, I listened back and I knew my destiny. I knew what I wanted to be.” When I heard Taylor speak those words, an electric bolt shot through me, and my brain began obsessively playing a line from that Roxy song “We are flying down to Rio.” But Roxy Music was completely unknown to me in May of 1982, as well as the fact that the band had released their final album, Avalon that same month. Five years later, Avalon would be introduced to me in such a lovely way that no other album could ever possibly have a more profound impact on me.

John Taylor presents Bryan Ferry with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame award in 2019.

I was completely smitten with John Taylor when school started in the fall of 1982. Much to my delight, my locker partner and I agreed that all the other girls, who loved Simon or Nick, were terribly misguided. John was the cutest, obviously, and the most romantic too, we could just tell. We saw his amorous and gallant nature so clearly in the rare glimpses of him in their videos. And why did they show so much of Simon in those videos? We pondered this question endlessly after we were finally able to see them on a late-night, one-hour music video program, Night Tracks, which began airing on Saturday nights on TBS later that year. I have always maintained a state of hopeless devotion to the men I have taken a romantic interest in, whether it be celebrity crush or real-life romance, there’s no straddling of the line for me, I’m all in until I’m all out. John was the only man to ever grace the door of my locker until I graduated from high school in May of 1987.

A sacred page from a long-ago issue of Teen Beat.

My obsessively detailed journal entries document my departure from Missouri to Los Angeles on June 16, 1987. I had graduated from high school and turned eighteen just three weeks earlier. I flew direct from the Kansas City Airport to LAX on the long-defunct now, Braniff Airlines. The previous year, I had had the incredibly rare fortune of meeting D, a young woman from Los Angeles, a cousin of my baton twirling coach. She worked as a fashion model and was the kindest and most gracious person I have ever known. For the next few years, I felt as if I had a big sister to advise me, and for the past 35 years, I have had a trusted mentor and friend. I had received a set of two houndstooth plaid suitcases as a graduation gift from my grandparents. One of the bags held all the clothing I owned. The other smaller one was much heavier, filled with books, journals, my complete collection of cassette tapes, and a few LP record albums. My carry-on item was my beloved boombox. I thought myself quite wise beyond my eighteen years and three weeks. I had subscribed to Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine throughout the past year, since meeting D, as my training course for an artistic and urban lifestyle. I was prepared, not to be distracted by the things that bring about the demise of the young ingenue archetype in all the movies I’d seen and books I’d read about Hollywood. I would be different, never to be attracted to the sex, drugs, and rock & roll lifestyle that plagued many a young woman, both real and fictional, who had arrived in LaLaLand before me. I wasn’t interested in the sex or the drugs, just the rock and roll. Little did I know, I was a walking, talking hypocrisy because I really believed all of that was possible. I thought I was so carefully informed and I was so inextricably naive.

So, there I was on the arrivals platform at LAX, with boombox and virtue intact, on a warm June afternoon in 1987. My great aunt and uncle who had been living in Los Angeles County for about a decade met me at the gate. In those days, long before 9/11, everyone could greet passengers upon arrival at every gate in every airport in the world. We retrieved my heavy bags from the carousel and shuffled out into the California sunlight streaming through the smog. My uncle pointed out that luggage with wheels is a modern convenience I might want to invest in for future air travel. “They do make these things with wheels nowadays,” he stated as he wrestled with the smaller of the two bags, “What’s in here, bricks?” I smiled gratefully and responded, “Books.” I had never before seen suitcases with wheels but just then, I became aware that we were the only people at the airport carrying our bags. Outside, I immediately noticed the hum of thousands of cars shooting up and down the 405 Freeway. I had grown up in a railroad town, where the clatter and whistles of trains gusting through town were commonplace occurrences day and night. Here the mode of transportation was different, but the auditory experience was similar.  

The drive from LAX to my aunt and uncle’s home in the San Gabriel Valley was over an hour.   The long drive from my country home to the airport in Kansas City had been three hours. We’d left before dawn to meet my plane. In the span of three and a half hours, I’d crossed the country from Missouri to California. All the way to my new home, as I rode from the 405 Freeway to the Santa Monica Freeway, and finally, to the Pomona Freeway, I looked to the north toward the Hollywood Hills in the hopes of a glimpse of the famous landmark sign. But it was not to be seen, the smog was too thick on that first day in Los Angeles.

A smoggy sky overhead upon arrival at my LA home for the first time.

A week after arriving in Los Angeles, my friend D invited me to stay for a week at her home in Malibu. As Saturday Night Live‘s The Californians would say: we took the 60, to the 10, to the 405, to Sunset, to PCH, to Big Rock. After nearly two hours in the car, we arrived at the traffic light on the west end of Sunset, where the Boulevard meets Pacific Coast Highway. From that vantage point, the Pacific Ocean is all that one can see to the west, and it’s nearly all that can be seen to the north and south as well. As I sat in the passenger seat, looking out at the ocean for the very first time, I was overcome by its vastness and its beauty. These were the days of four channels of television and long before the internet, when seeing the ocean for the first time was truly seeing it for the first time for an eighteen-year-old Midwestern girl in 1986. Tears began to stream down my cheeks. D quickly pulled into the nearest beach parking lot so that I could be fully indoctrinated in a multi-sensory encounter with the Pacific. In addition to the astounding visual sensation, a multitude of foreign experiences rushed all of my senses. The feel of the sand under my feet, the taste of salty ocean air on my lips, the smell of the beach that hung in the salty air–a glorious combination of ocean water, sand, and coconut-scented suntan lotion, and the roaring sound of the waves crashing the shore. All of this was accompanied by the most intriguing music I had ever heard and the romantic voice of Bryan Ferry:

More than this
You know there’s nothing more than this
Tell me one thing more than this
Ooh there’s nothing
more than this

I am absolutely certain there is no other album in the history of recorded music that could have been a more perfect soundtrack for that moment. D was driving a 1970s-era beachcomber Range Rover. With the windows down and the volume up, Roxy Music’s 1982 masterpiece, Avalon floated into my consciousness for the first time. She pointed southward and told me, “on a clear day you can see Avalon from here.” At the time, I didn’t know she was referring to the port city on Santa Catalina Island or the title of the album playing in her car. It was a simultaneous love-at-first-sight with the Pacific Ocean and love-at-first-sound with Bryan Ferry. This music had the same effect upon me as Rio had five years earlier.

D’s husband at the time was a photographer and had offered to shoot a few rolls of test photos for me the next day as a prep course for actual test photos that would be required to pursue an agent and a modeling career. D dressed me from head to knee in Ralph Lauren couture from her own closet. Our backdrop was the lush and colorful florals and botanicals in the backyard of their Malibu home, overlooking the Pacific. The two of them paced around me in a circle, and determined that the right side of my face was ‘my best side’. Next, she placed me in the grass as he began to set up a camera tripod and pop-up light deflectors. I was incredibly nervous and had not a single clue what to do, where to look, or how to pose by my body. I asked her if we could listen to the album she had played in the car the previous day. I had never heard music quite like it before and found it so mysterious and magical. I asked her who it was, and what kind of music it was. “Roxy Music” she answered, “I don’t know…they’re just called Roxy Music.” She went to retrieve the cassette from the car and returned to the backyard with a boombox playing the tape. Immediately, Ferry’s voice calmed me. My first test shoot, accompanied by Avalon, resulted in my favorite photo ever taken of me. I can hear Avalon and feel the warm Malibu breeze on my face and the cool grass under my bare feet, and I remember just how earnest and innocent I was at that time in my life.

That evening, we climbed into the Range Rover again to drive further up the coast of Malibu to watch the sunset from Point Dume at Zuma Beach. There, I sat on the same massive red rocks where I had seen Gene Kelly playing his clarinet in the opening scene of the 1980 film, Xanadu. As I witnessed the sun melt like an orange popsicle into the Pacific for the very first time, it seemed as if I were watching a magic show of the grandest scale. When we returned to their home I wrote every detail in my journal. “Oh, to think that people live here in this place where they can experience such beauty every day!” A few months later, Bryan Ferry released a solo album, Bete Noir. I’d acquired a copy of Avalon that summer, but its cover art had not included the band. So there I was sorting through the F section at Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard in late 1987, when our eyes met. A whole section of Bryan Ferry’s discography revealed a divinely dressed English gentleman with brooding eyes, and shining black hair, like an old movie star from one of those film noirs that had taught me everything I thought I needed to know about this town. John Taylor was out, Bryan Ferry was in.

That first day in Malibu is a memory I hope that I will never, never, ever forget. I believe as long as I have the ability to hear Avalon, I have the ability to be transported to that particular spot on the Malibu coastline and to Avalon and Xanadu, two mystical places of ultimate tranquility from ancient literature. In each room of my home, I have kept mementos from visits to Malibu. A jar of sand, rocks, and shells from my daughter’s first visit to Zuma in 2012; a bottled scent of essential oils custom-designed to keep the aroma of Malibu alive in my midwestern home; and a bottle of Wellness, a magical elixir of organic cayenne pepper, ginseng, and citrus juices purchased and consumed during my visit to Malibu in 2017. Its contents have been replaced with more sand, collected on my daughter’s second trip to Zuma, when she reached the age that I had been 30 years earlier when I first experienced Malibu. And most recently, a chunk of that enchanting red rock was added to the jar of Zuma artifacts. Each time I return there, physically or metaphorically, Bryan Ferry is always there with me, serenading me through my earbuds, and for 37 minutes I am eighteen again, enchanted by all of the possibilities that lie ahead, with my whole life yet to be lived. Ferry’s own description of the album is so aligned with my own: “Avalon is a part of the King Arthur legend and is a very romantic thing. When King Arthur dies, the Queens ferry him off to Avalon, which is a sort of enchanted island. It’s the ultimate romantic fantasy piece.

Rebel, that’s right.

For anyone who has followed any of my social media this week, you’ve seen my wholehearted support on full display for the triumphant return of Janet Jackson. This week in 1986, her album Control premiered at number one on the Billboard charts. This week, 36 years later, the album charted at #1 on iTunes. And, this week, I tweeted not once, not twice, but three times about Janet, after months of nothing in my Twitter feed. Today, I feel compelled to publish a blog post for the first time in 13 months. Why is this so important to me? In 1986, I was seventeen. I did what people told me. So young and so naive.

From the very beginning of my memory, around the age of two, I wanted to be in the music business. I felt an alliance with Janet Jackson throughout my 1970s childhood. Janet is just two years older than me, and I had seen her appearances on her brothers’ television specials and other variety shows, and then as a member of the cast on Good Times. She exhibited a multitude of talents, while I searched to discover mine. My earliest memories are of practice, practice, practice, behind the closed door of my bedroom, attempting to imitate every facial expression, every gesture or head nod, every tone or accent I’d witnessed from my favorite musicians in performances that I had seen on television. First, there was Cher, then Lynn Anderson, Loretta Lynn, and Linda Ronstadt. By the time I reached kindergarten, it was Barbra, Barbra, and more Barbra. Throughout elementary school, I most admired and imitated Olivia Newton-John and Marie Osmond. Despite all that disciplined practice and my nightly prayers, I was never offered a solo in our church’s children’s choir. But I persevered. At the age of four, I had been told I “stuck out like a sore thumb” by one of the other girls’ moms as we lined up for photos before my first dance recital. The photographer reinforced her opinion of me by making me stand on a box in the back row with the older girls because I was “too tall” to stand with my classmates. Nonetheless, I continued in search of my musical talent. In second grade, inspired by Christine McVie’s “Songbird” I aspired to become a songwriter. I wanted to learn to play piano so that I could learn to read music. A few months later, I was told I had to quit piano lessons. My disinterest in the sheet music I was given–hymns and military marches–was inferred by the adults around me as my lack of interest in playing music. I never had the guts to ask for a copy of “Songbird”. At the age of twelve, my new stepmother began to instill in me an assurance that I was nothing special and that I should give up my unrealistic dreams of any sort of career in music. I believed all of these external messages about myself. By middle school, I was certain that I could not become any of the things I had aspired to throughout my childhood. I believed other people knew me better than I knew myself.

In high school, I was told by my English teacher and my journalism teacher that I could write well. So I studied compulsively to earn the grade point average that would award me with the scholarship funding I would need to go to college and study journalism. Despite being a voracious consumer of fashion and music magazines, the messages I’d received from my choir director, my dance instructor, my piano teacher, my stepmother, and even what I inferred as messages from God at that time, led me to believe I was meant to become the kind of journalist who wrote for the local weekly newspaper in my hometown. As I grew bigger, my dreams grew smaller, until 1986.

Yesterday, I had a lengthy and long-overdue phone call with two of my best friends from high school. We were reminiscing about the simplicity of our small-town teenage life in the 1980s when I said something about wishing I had been more confident then. One of my friends replied that I changed during the summer of 1986. “You were bold,” she said, “Something changed that summer before our senior year. You knew you were going to leave our small town and do big things.” From the ages of twelve to sixteen, I had been a tightly wound coil of insecurity. But at seventeen, I took control.

During our teenage years, Janet appeared on Fame, living my dream as a student in a high school for the performing arts. Then, in 1986, when she sang of finding the courage to ignore what others had advised her, I wanted to experience that feeling and to find that courage in myself. Throughout my senior year of high school as Janet was dropping single and after single into the Billboard Top 5, she empowered me to believe in myself. Although we never met, Janet guided me through my last full year of life in rural Missouri. Just as she expressed in her music video for “Control,” I too would soon be on my own. And like Janet emphatically declares to her parents in the first minute of the music video for “Control”, eventually, I too had an apartment in Westwood.

In the summer of 1986, I developed a lifelong friendship with my mentor. Immediately, upon our first acquaintance, she spoke to me with complete enthusiasm about my future. She radiated with a level of optimism that I had never encountered before and was willing to invest time and energy toward my success. Her words validated the message in Janet’s lyrics that I was trying so hard to instill into my future, while simultaneously negating all of the messages I’d previously indoctrinated from my past. Confident young women were empowering me to be bold.

During my senior year, I was captain of my twirling team and my cheer squad, and editor of our high school yearbook. I presented the concept of MTV as a theme for our yearbook to my journalism teacher and the class. I wanted this book to serve as a time capsule not only of our high school experience but also of the music that was most influential to us during that year of our lives. I wrote to the president of MTV to get permission to use their logo. Again, I was empowered by the affirmation I received from a successful woman of that time.

If you need a refresher or are not aware of Janet’s chart-topping discography, listen to Janet Jackson Essentials, a comprehensive collection on Apple Music. In the 1980s, Miss Jackson became the largest-selling debut touring artist of all time. Today, she still holds that title, that’s right, still. Since 1986, her career only continued to soar as she broke down barriers and climbed charts. She sang about things that young women needed to hear–taking control of your own life, and telling young men, let’s wait awhile. Throughout her career, she sang about issues that affect all women like domestic abuse, and about racism, things that Black women could not sing about, and remain pop superstars, previously. Janet had carved out a career on her own terms, achieving number one hits, number one albums, and a successful film career for nearly two decades until a momentous career pinnacle took her down.

From what I can find in my admittedly brief research today, Diana Ross and Ella Fitzgerald were the only Black women who had previously been invited to perform during the Superbowl halftime show until Janet’s performance in January of 2004. Justin Timberlake’s solo career was just getting started at that time. He became the top-grossing artist of that year and went on to become a gigantic success as a pop star. Janet Jackson’s career came to a halt and faded into near obscurity. There were people who tried to claim that what happened to her was a publicity stunt. Let me remind you once again that she was nearly the biggest pop star in the world in 2004. I wholeheartedly believe no music publicist would have advised her to do this to accelerate her career, and, I wholeheartedly believe she did not choose to be publicly assaulted on live television as a “stunt”. I wish social media had been around back then to shut down those people making those claims. Maybe this whole sordid story would have been stopped in its tracks in 2004, but it wasn’t. We glorified him and condemned her for what he did to her. This sounds all too familiar, doesn’t it?

Get irritated if you must, but don’t stop reading if you disagree with me. Let me finish what I need to say, let me get to the point about why this week is so important to me. There have been incidents in my life when someone took away my control, without my consent. In turn, I lost confidence in myself and made some regretful choices. Many of us have been there. We’ve found ourselves in times when we have been forced to choose between two unappealing outcomes, the flight of silence or the fight against the scrutiny which Rebecca Solnit talks about at great length in her 2014 book, Men Explain Things to Me. So, we choose and we hope for the best. Years later, or in the cases of Janet and me, decades later, I can see exactly how certain decisions informed what choices became available after that decision. I’ve come to believe that every choice truly does affect everything that comes after.

I have also made some decisions that have been more fulfilling than I could ever have dreamed they would be for me. Choosing to become a mom has brought more joy to my life than anything I’ve ever done. My daughter has grown into a young woman who is not afraid to speak her truth, and she encourages others to do so. Her courage inspires me to continue to find my strength and to use my voice. Choosing to book a music festival with 26 female-led artists in my first year of being in a position of control to make real change in my industry is the second-best thing I’ve ever done. My co-producer and I went for it, despite a lot of discouragement from a lot of people we respect. We used our control to affect change. She and I made a little chip in that glass ceiling that women have talked about since Marilyn Loden coined the phrase in 1978. This leads me to the song that I have started and ended each day with since it was released in October of 2020. Brandi Carlile and Alicia Keyes reignited a flame in me that hasn’t burned this strong in 36 years. “A Beautiful Noise” is nominated for the Grammy Song of the Year Award. Whether or not it wins on April 3rd, it is the most personally empowering song of my life since “Control” in 1986.

For those of you who have already, or who plan to watch the documentary Janet Jackson which premiered a week ago, I have a request. Do not disrespect her decisions about what she has chosen to share and not to share. She has chosen to give her fans some insight into how she has arrived at Janet the mother and the agent of change in the music industry that she is today. She reveals some of her pain and some of her regrets. She graciously chooses not to condemn any of the people who may have affected her in ways that led to that pain. What human cannot identify with all of that? Each of us has faced painful choices and dealt with what came after. How much of ourselves we feel safe in sharing with the rest of the world is our own choice to make. Otherwise, we lose control.

2020: ” I will not let silence win”

  “A Beautiful Noise” by Alicia Keys and Brandi Carlile   listen to my 2020 playlist

January 1, 2021

Family, friends, health, home. These concepts become buzz words that traditionally get thrown around during the holiday season as the things we appreciate most of all. This year, these four words have taken on far more meaning than I could ever have anticipated one year ago today. Without my family and friends, I would no longer have health insurance or a home today. Just a few weeks into the March shutdown, I was scheduled to dj a gig in my hometown, that we had to cancel. The owners of that venue, good friends from high school, had an inkling that my newly owned business might not operate in 2020, and insisted on paying me for a future gig, when we can all gather and dance and celebrate music together. I cannot wait for that time to come, when I will gladly dj multiple dance parties in their establishment to repay that kindness. Then in late summer, when the very last of my savings had been extinguished, I needed some car repairs. Completely unexpectedly, a check arrived in the mail from my aunt and uncle. Out of the blue, my dad offered me temporary employment in the fall. Then, last month, just as I had come to terms with the fact that I would have to part with the home I have owned for nearly 18 years, a call came from dear friends who also own a small local business, asking if I’d like to work for them during the holiday season. Kind neighbors and friends have voluntarily provided the funds needed in order for me to pay my healthcare premiums for the past few months. Grocery store gift cards and other items of necessity, and some fun gifts too, showed up at my doorstep this Christmas. Our neighbors and family members made sure my daughter and I had gifts under our tree and food on our table this Christmas. These random but incredibly generous acts of kindness, provided us with a Christmas morning and meal that felt somewhat like a normal year for us. So here we are, on January 1, 2021, we are still in our cozy little home and remain in good health, due to the exceptional kindness of family and friends. On March 30, 2020, we lost one of my favorite musicians, Bill Withers. Today as I woke, and as I write, his most well-known anthem plays in my head: Sometimes in our lives, we all have pain, we all have sorrows, but if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow...I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on.

Lean on Me” Bill Withers, 1972

Since 2017, I have made diligent efforts toward turning my life around. Rather than being the former eternal optimist, real life hardships and heartache have necessitated my mindset to the cautious pragmatist. So many times, I had been assigned the task of finding the strategies for others’ bold and risky visions. I commend the creative minds of the folks I’ve worked for and with during the past thirty years, and for entrusting me with their visions. Nonetheless, being their first mate, doing the heavy lifting on behalf of the many captains of the many ships of enterprise I’ve steered in my life, but never experiencing the full satisfaction of doing this work in support of my own vision, was something I was determined to change by the time I reached the age of 50. In 2019, I obsessively budgeted and researched and planned and considered every risk (well, almost every risk) before investing my life in ownership of a concert production company. I believed that in 2020, I would have the ability to control my own destiny and to see my own creative vision come to life for my community. Finally, I would be the instigator, the motivator, the one encouraging my brilliant colleagues and employees whom I would most assuredly give full recognition to, for their talent and time, so that they might move forward on a path with far less detours than the path I had taken to get to this point in my career. 2020 was going to be my time to become the catalyst between my community and the compelling art and artists of my choosing, and in the medium that makes my heart soar, causes my entire body to shiver in sheer awe, and puts my mind at ease like nothing else can. I was going to give that glorious gift of live music to my community. I was going to feel the benefit of the decades of 18-hour workdays I dutifully contributed to the success of so many other people’s businesses throughout the past 30 years. In 2019, I invested my life and livelihood in a concert production company, just months before COVID 19 was introduced to the world. The entire industry of live entertainment has been shut down for nearly a year and will continue to be inoperable until this pandemic is controlled, a timeline which doctors and scientists with cautious optimism suggest as “hopefully, the summer of 2021”.

I commend the public health professionals who have done everything they possibly can to protect us from an even more catastrophic spread of illness and death. As I write today, over 345,000 Americans and counting have died. The President says this virus affects “practically no one”. It is incredibly distressing to know that these 345,000+ souls are “no one” to him. I condemn the President and those legislators who have done little to nothing, to address the industries that cannot operate in this crisis, much less, the health crisis itself. I have 12 million colleagues who have not worked and cannot work until the pandemic is controlled. The President claims that he won the battle against the pandemic. Many of us have already lost our businesses, our healthcare, our homes, and our livelihoods and in 345,000+ cases, our lives. A few days ago, the Save Our Stages legislation for which my colleagues and I have lobbied in support of our industry, was finally passed. Hopefully, we have been told, funding will be available to us by the end of next quarter, an entire year after our businesses were first shuttered.

While I am immensely anxiety-ridden these days, I have not lost hope, because my daughter and her generation are beacons of hope. I’ve raised her on my conviction that as long as we have hope, we have everything we need. I hear great wisdom from my daughter, her partner, and her friends, and from my brilliant young business partner in our conversations about politics and social justice and climate change. In October, a 14-year-old girl from Texas was awarded the 2020 Young Scientist Challenge for her work on a potential COVID-19 therapy. Young people have hopeful ideas about every aspect of 21st century life, and we need to pause and listen and learn from them. Young people believe in science, they understand that public health protections do not violate their Constitutional freedoms. They also know climate change is real, they respect the planet, and genuinely desire to save it for their children. Human rights seem to be fundamental to most of their generation, and that is incredibly encouraging to me. They believe freedom of religion means exactly that, rather than the freedom to practice only Christianity. They know that love is love, period. They are not interested in controlling their fellow citizen’s body or gender or sexual identity. I believe the great majority of Americans under 30 have zero tolerance for sexist, racist, or homophobic ideologies. They believe the time has come for the tenets of the Constitution to apply to everyone–a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. 

In my introductory note written nearly two years ago, I questioned whether this generation would create anthems that would represent the current movements, and in 2020, they certainly have. Young and fearless artists are demanding justice and truth throughout our multi-hued tapestry of American music. Beyonce, Demi Lovato, Black Pumas, Maren Morris, and H.E.R. are just a few of the young voices that have released exceptionally moving anthems of hope throughout 2020. My daughter says the ingenues of the young band, The New Respects, give her strength and courage every day with their 2020 infectious anthem, “Say What You Want.” Janelle Monae’s ultra groove of “Turntables” with her honest and empowering lyrics, I don’t need permission, I got my intuition has strengthened my courage every day since its release on September 8, 2020. Sheryl Crow collaborated this year with several brilliant young artists including some of my recent favorite artists, Yola, Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, and Brandi Carlile, for Yola’s emotive “Hold On”. Rhiannon Giddens recently released “It’s a Fire” a moving collaboration with Amanda Palmer. Public Enemy collaborated on a 21st century take on their 1990 hit, with “Fight the Power 2020” featuring Questlove and Black Thought of The Roots, along with a new generation of young male and female rappers including Nas, Jahi, YG, and Rapsody, contributing to a modern message in response to an enduring problem. The Flaming Lips, the 1990s indie rock darlings, collaborated with 21st century country songstress, Kacey Musgraves to address that same problem. Stevie Wonder has contributed his voice to address the systemic issues of injustice in our country throughout my entire lifetime. His decades-long inspiring expression of hope has been reborn again in 2020, on two new tracks with young collaborators Gary Clark Jr., Rapsody, Cordae, CHIKA, and Busta Rhymes. In the past few months, Stevie Nicks and Rosanne Cash have each released songs of unity and hope. Another favorite from my early childhood, Jackson Browne, was one of the first to release a song expressing the uncertainties of 2020 in his “A Little too Soon to Say”. In April, 81-year-old musical icon, Mavis Staples released “We’re all in it Together” and donated the proceeds from the downloads of this song to provide COVID-19 relief to aging residents in her hometown of Chicago. Her words of hope continue to pierce through the veils of racism and classism, after six decades of sharing her voice in the name of “We the People”. This is the woman who boldly sang: take the sheet off your face in 1972, and 48 years later, she gently and graciously sings: I gave up on hating you just for hating me a long time ago.  The collaboration between Alicia Keys and Brandi Carlile released in October, is an arresting auditory illustration of every word I have written throughout the past three years. You have a voice. It’s stronger than your fear. It’s believing you belong. It’s for calling out the wrong. From the mouths of our mothers to the lips of our daughters....from the silence of our sisters, to the violence of our brothers. I also wrote in my first Note, on January 6, 2019: “Regardless of every possible difference between us, I believe music is truly the tie that binds us.” My conviction to this statement has been strengthened a thousand-fold by the music created in 2020. In response to both the unprecedented and the recurring challenges of 2020, musicians are making bold moves to erase genre, race, gender, and generational divides.

In the late summer of 2020, we lost Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Helen Reddy (neither to COVID-19) within a ten-day period. In the mid-way point between mourning the deaths of these two feminist icons, Kentucky’s Attorney General announced that a grand jury found no justifiable evidence to bring criminal charges against the three white male police officers who stormed the home of Breonna Taylor in a botched drug raid on March 13, 2020. Officers broke down her door as she slept, fired multiple rounds into the darkness, and murdered her in her bed. Taylor was a young Black woman who was working as an EMT on the front lines of the pandemic, doing her part to save American lives. She had no criminal history. It seems quite obvious to me that the President and his administration also regard her as no one. Instead, of addressing this travesty, he and the majority of his Republican colleagues focused their attention at that time on pushing through a conservative Supreme Court Justice who opposes the entire body of Justice Ginsberg’s nearly sixty years of work. I’ve spent a great deal of time this year listening to women’s voices, in song and in literature and on film. Together with my daughter, we watched the ten part series, Mrs. America, the story of the fight for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, which occurred throughout the first decade of my life, and died at the hands of Ronald Reagan during the year I became a teenager. Together with my mother we watched the biopic of Helen Reddy, and learned that her experience of the late 1960s and early 1970s with her young daughter Tracy, in many ways, reflected our lives at that same time. Her experiences as a young single mother led to her anthem, which became the anthem of the ERA movement, “I Am Woman”. Although I heard it played on our turntable countless times throughout the 1970s, I heard this song with remarkable clarity this year. In 2020, “I am Woman” became a call to action for me.

My mom spent her younger years reading and thinking about how wonderful it would be if her daughter could one day live in a world where women’s thoughts and feelings and actions would be regarded as equal to those of men, although she never imagined this would be her own reality. I spent most of my life acting as if I were living in a world where these ideals were realized, even as I was knocked down and dragged backward again and again.  Throughout 2020, I have read the biographies of Tina Turner, Janet Mock, Olivia Newton-John, Josephine Baker, and Gloria Steinem. Tina Turner and Josephine Baker are both former residents of my home state who chose not only to leave Missouri, but America, in order to live authentic and courageous lives. Although all of these women have lived through vastly different periods and experiences of the 20th and 21st centuries than I, many of their challenges are achingly familiar to me. The gaslighting, the threats, and the sometimes violent aggression against us prevails, despite the diligent work of so many brave women who have risked their lives to take a bold and public stand against these cultural norms. Reading the honest accounts of these women’s lives has given me the courage to write my whole truth and to find new purpose for the remainder of my days. I want to leave this world knowing I have done what I could with the skills I possess, to make this country a more equitable place than I found it for my daughters and for the young woman I have worked alongside for the past two and half years and for all women.

Me and my girls, 2010.

2020 has allowed me the ample time needed to take my starter Notes from this blog, and convert and complete them into a full, fifty-year, 400-page story. of music and memory. Upon the completion of my Notes, I have realized that the messages in the music of the past half-century have both hindered and bolstered my reality far more so than I realized when I began this project in 2017. I’ve spent more time in the listening gallery during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 than perhaps in the past 18 years altogether. I was also able to spend some long days alone in rural Missouri, surrounded by soybeans and sunshine while listening to the soundtrack of my life. I took the time to walk down Gracia Street from the house that was my first home, to the building that was once Topp Cats Roller Rink, while listening to my 1972 playlist. I needed to get lost inside the head of my younger self in order to contemplate where to go from here, since 2020 did not turn out at all as I had planned. I have just begun the process of sending my manuscript to literary agents. I am now more determined than ever to contribute to real change. Many of my greatest setbacks have resulted from a lack of trust in myself, from not listening to my own voice, and instead allowing others to control the narrative, even when I knew they were using alternative facts. I am responding to Brandi’s and Alicia’s call to action, to stop living a lie and stand up. This year, I’ve realized that being an agent of change requires not just thinking, but speaking my truth, and not just acting, but living my truth. I’ll end this new year Note of hope with the words of another favorite artist of my childhood years that we lost in 2020, Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now.” Indeed, I can.

“building your dream has to start now, there’s no other road to take”

What happens when you’re 11 years old and your favorite country singer and your favorite rock band collaborate on a soundtrack? MAGIC

Forty years ago today, August 8, 1980, my mom drove my brother and me to Kansas City in our 1976 Ford LTD for the opening day of the film I had been breathlessly awaiting all summer long. That three-hour car ride from our rural home-town to the city, was the final step in my three-month anticipation for the release of this film. We went to the theater in a beautiful district of Kansas City known as The Plaza. It’s a lovely area designed to replicate Seville, Spain with dozens of gorgeous fountains and sculptures in addition to 15 blocks of shops and restaurants housed in Spanish-inspired architecture. The Plaza is a genuinely beautiful, romantic space, and to this eleven-year-old, starry-eyed Missouri farm girl, The Plaza was almost like stepping inside a fantasy world. There could not have been a more inspired setting in my home state for me to see Xanadu for the first time.

In 1980, the world of American popular music was experiencing one of its most creative peaks. The fusion of disco and R&B, with the emerging sounds of hip-hop, new wave, and punk in New York City, make that time and place my ideal time-travel destination, if ever such a trip were to present itself to me. There is a vast wealth of music from that time period I now have an appreciation for that I did not yet know existed in 1980. For me, as I entered into my second decade of life during the summer of 1980, the two artists influencing my rural American existence more-so than any other at the time were Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra. I had admired Olivia since I was four years old, when her American breakthrough album and single Let Me Be There dominated the country charts in 1973. I still love this album, and my copy from 1973 hangs in the listening gallery (my living room) today. Her talent was recognized with the award for the Country Music Association’s female vocalist of the year in 1974, and a string of country hits followed throughout the decade. Olivia remained one of my favorite vocalists of the 1970s. Then, in 1978 she appeared in the film version of the musical, Grease, making her all the more captivating to me, as my dream in life at that time was to become a Broadway star.

My copy of Let Me Be There, autographed by Olivia when I had the amazing thrill of meeting her in 2006.

I was absolutely spellbound from the very first time I heard Electric Light Orchestra in 1975 at Topp Cats Roller Rink. It was indeed a Strange Magic. That classically arranged string intro so gracefully eases into a typical mid-1970s voice and guitar ballad piece, and then, WOW! All sorts of soaring, sonic sounds unlike anything I had ever heard before came rushing in and around the strings and guitar to reach a stirring crescendo. Today, 45 years later, as I listen to this song, I can recall that heady experience of the rink floor moving under six-year-old me, and I am lifted—body, mind, and spirit. And then there is the elegant and haunting One Summer Dream, my all-time favorite ELO track. Because this song was always designated as a “couples only” selection at Topp Cats, whenever I heard that gorgeous string arrangement intro over the PA system, I would go and hide out in the corner on the benches. This is how and when I began to crave the sensation of feeling music in a physical way. By sitting directly under the speaker mounted in that corner, and leaning my head back, against that wall, I could feel the beat reverberate through me. ELO was mine, all mine. Previous to discovering ELO at Topp Cats, my musical tastes had been formed from listening to the records of the adults in my family or from watching an artist on television with my family. Because of my experience at Topp Cats, I will forever feel a deeply personal connection with Electric Light Orchestra.

My introduction to Electric Light Orchestra was the 1975 album Face the Music.

In 1980, nothing in life could have been more magical than a film featuring a soundtrack from my favorite female vocalist AND my favorite band. No other album before or perhaps since has given me the intense thrill that the ten tracks of the Xanadu soundtrack produced for me as an eleven-year-old super fan of Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra. Olivia’s single Magic was the first track to be released from the forthcoming soundtrack. The track was released during the week of my eleventh birthday. I, of course, found this not at all coincidental, but rather, purely magical. The song remained at number one on the pop charts for four weeks that summer. I was absolutely enchanted and wholeheartedly believed in the magic of those lyrics. Every word of that ethereal and intriguing song resonated with a message that inspired me to keep dreaming about one day finding my place in the music industry, in some glittering and glamorous city, far from my rural home. Three other singles, I’m Alive and All Over the World both by ELO, and the title track, a collaboration from both artists, were all released during the summer in advance of the film. Throughout that summer, I floated around the roller rink floor at Topp Cats on the weekends and in my basement on weekdays, as I listened to these 45RPM records, and fantasized about the plot of the forthcoming film. I could not wait for summer to end because of the intensity of my anticipation for Xanadu‘s release.

Forty years later, I’m Alive is still my favorite scene, with all its glorious 80s kitsch.

Xanadu the film, did not disappoint. Not me, anyway. The critics, however, had a very different opinion of this love story musical on roller skates that featured multiple over-the-top fantastical dance scenes that merged the electric sounds of 1980s disco with 1940s big band music, and a bizarre Disney-esque animated scene that seems to make absolutely no connection with the rest of the film. The amazingly-high-tech-for-its-time-special-effects that now actually make me laugh out loud, brought the nine Muses to life from a mural on the Venice Beach Boardwalk within minutes of the film’s opening. This is where we first see Kira, the roller-skating muse, one of the nine daughters of Zeus, played by Olivia Newton-John. Her sisters are a multi-racial ensemble of goddesses, a bold and inspiring cinematic depiction for 1980. Kira then roller skates up and down the city’s coast from Zuma Beach in Malibu to the Boardwalk in Venice, to bring two music-loving, but disgruntled by the industry, individuals together to convert the illustrious but decaying architectural icon, the Pan Pacific Auditorium, into a roller-disco-meets-big-band-nightclub. Once she brings the two men together there, she recites Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1797 poem about Kubla Khan’s palace to the two dreamers, and magically, Xanadu is rebuilt. Then there is the classically impeccable dancing of none other than Gene Kelly, himself, in what would be his final film role, reprising his role as Danny McGuire from his 1944 film Cover Girl. All this, along with the breathtaking backdrop of the beach and the palm trees and the gorgeous art-deco architecture of Los Angeles, was Xanadu. What’s not to love when you’re a pre-teen farmer’s daughter who has lived inside her fantasy of becoming a part of the entertainment business since she could walk and talk? I was captivated, and that’s putting it mildly, obsessed, is more accurate.

My mom kindly bought a cassette version of the Xanadu Soundtrack and a special edition Xanadu magazine at Sam Goody before we left the city. Our 1976 Ford LTD did not come equipped with a cassette player, but we kept a portable, battery-powered cassette player in the back seat of our car. That night on the long ride home from the city, we listened to three hours of Electric Light Orchestra and Olivia Newton-John. I tried to keep my eyes closed all the way home as I listened to the soundtrack in an effort to permanently embed the visual scene associated with each track into my brain. I knew it would be several months before the film would play our local theater and I didn’t want to forget a single celluloid moment. In 1980, my goal was to see the film nine times. I was certain that by achieving this “magic” number of screenings, all of my dreams would come true and I would grow up and find my way to a life in the music business. When the film finally arrived in my hometown around Christmas-time, it played once a day for a week, so I missed my goal by one screening. That ninth theatrical viewing became reality in 2018. I held a private screening in the theater I was managing at the time, for my daughter and her friends. My daughter’s generation has found this film to be a fantastically nostalgic romp through 1980s excess. I’m thrilled that Xanadu has found an appreciative audience after all these years. To add to the personal magical affection we share for this film, we discovered that night as the credits rolled across the big screen, that Xanadu had been choreographed by Kenny Ortega, the same man who made High School Musical, the musical sensation of my daughter’s generation. Within a year of that ninth screening, I became the owner of a music festival. So perhaps the magic of that ninth theatrical viewing of Xanadu did indeed have something to do with making my dreams come true, it just took me 38 years to make that happen. I turned out to be the Danny McGuire of my Xanadu, returning to the music business after my 20-year absence from it.

I found this image of a Japanese version of the magazine I owned in 1980, and wish I had kept.

After seeing Xanadu in 1980, I had to embellish my roller style a bit, to emulate my new screen heroine, Kira, Zeus’s roller-skating daughter. I adorned my white roller skates with shiny silver sticker letters bearing my initials “TNL” on the back spine of each skate under my newly purchased leg warmers. I also dressed in frilly peasant blouses and flowing prairie skirts in pastel colors at the roller rink. I hung nine (one for each of the muses) of my grandma’s scarves from an elastic belt around my waist, in my effort to replicate the muses’ fluttering layered dresses, as I floated around the rink floor at Topp Cats. Yep, I really did that. I also attempted to replicate some of the dancing scenes at home. I was particularly captivated by the ending scene during which Kira magically transforms her visual appearance and musical style from 1940s siren, to 1980s punk, to rhinestone cowgirl in a three-minute scene for a song titled Fool Country, which did not make the soundtrack but appeared as a B-side on one of the singles.

working on my dance routine to “Fool Country” from the closing scene of Xanadu.

My daughter and I watched Xanadu last night to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this film. I confess, I still love it because I can still recall the magical influence it had over me in 1980. Since I was three years old, I had wanted to become a dancer, or singer, or literally anything that would connect me to the glitter and glamour of some sort of music-related career. Until Xanadu, nearly all of my favorite media had allowed me glimpses inside New York’s entertainment industry and/or New York City itself–Funny Girl, That Girl, The Goodbye Girl, Mahogany, Annie, The Wiz and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Xanadu was my first exposure to Los Angeles, and instantly, I was enamored. From the moment I saw that opening scene featuring Gene Kelly playing clarinet on the majestic rocks at Zuma Beach, my fascination for NY was magically transported to LA. The awareness of Los Angeles as a launching point for my future career could be somewhat tethered in reality, and that concept became obsessively compelling for me as an eleven-year-old. I had a great aunt and uncle who lived in Los Angeles, and perhaps one day I could go and visit them there. Seven years after seeing Xanadu, I would do just that. By the late 1980s, a number of young women had been declared supermodels due to appearances in rock music videos. I aspired to become the next Paulina Porizkova. I believed a career as a fashion model would be my role in the music industry, since I had proven to have no dance or vocal talent, nor any ability to play a musical instrument, despite my best efforts to acquire some sort of entertaining skill throughout my childhood. By the time I graduated from high school, Paulina was my idol, and her husband, Ric Ocasek, lead singer for the new wave band, The Cars, was my ideal man. And The Cars’ 1984 hit song Magic, is still my favorite summer anthem. I arrived in Los Angeles three weeks after graduating from high school and was signed by the same agency that represented Porizkova by the end of the summer of 1987. Quite magical for a naive country girl from Missouri.

During my first week in Los Angeles, by pure chance, a friend took me to Zuma Beach, where I witnessed for the first time, the beauty of the sun as it melts into the Pacific Ocean at dusk. That experience from 33 years ago lives in my mind and heart as if it happened last night. Not only was I spellbound by the majesty of the ocean, but at the realization that I was in the place where Gene Kelly had played his clarinet in the opening scene of Xanadu. In 1988, my favorite photoshoot during my brief career in Los Angeles took place on those same rocks where Xanadu had given me my first look at Los Angeles. By the end of the 1980s, I realized model was not the role for me. I returned to Missouri, intent on becoming a music journalist. Thirty summers later, my daughter and I made a trip to Los Angeles to see Electric Light Orchestra’s first US tour in nearly 30 years. During that trip, I photographed my daughter in that same spot at Zuma, to ensure her dreams would one day come true as well, because I still consider Zuma Beach in Malibu to be the most magical place in the world. I try to make a pilgrimage to those rocks, to be “suspended in time” in my zen zone, every time I visit the glittering city of the angels. Zuma is my connection to that eleven-year-old farm girl inside me who believed her dreams could come true at the beginning of the 1980s, as well as to that eighteen-year-old girl in me, who actually got a shot at making her dreams come true in Los Angeles at the end of the 1980s. Throughout the four decades since then, my belief in those lyrics “we have to believe we are magic, nothing can stand in our way,” has ebbed and flowed. I thought that today, on the 40th anniversary of Xanadu, smack in the middle of a year of unprecedented challenge for not only me, but nearly everyone in this country, we could all use a little bit of magic. We have to believe the magic is within each of us, we don’t have to be kissed by a muse for inspiration. Every one of us has the very human ability to inspire one another through compassion, kindness and empathy. Let’s be better humans, to all humans “all over the world”.

“Sail away and dream of how our life will someday be”

This morning I awoke from a dream in which I was roller skating. I wasn’t ten in this dream, I was fifty, and I was happy, really really happy. Then I opened my eyes and remembered all the things that we are all facing together right now, and felt a tinge of anxiety and an increased heart rate. Before I write anything else, I feel compelled to say that I am not writing on behalf of any organization, not my business partners, nor my family. I’m simply doing the two things that I can do today that give me a bit of peace of mind–listening to music and writing about life–and hoping I might give you a little peace as well. When my daughter woke up this morning, I told her about my dream, and that I was fighting an urge to order a pair of roller skates online. She reminded me that I have little to no cartilage left in my knees and three herniated discs in my back. She said she would feel more comfortable about my health and well being if I would not make that purchase. I am grateful that she is thinking about my health. Most of us don’t think about others’ health nearly as often as we should. I hope this experience we are all living through together will encourage us to continue to think about how we affect humanity in our daily lives after we have moved past this pandemic. In the past few days, I’ve watched and made small contributions to several livestream concerts, bought two albums online, and donated to The Food Bank. All of these actions were my modest efforts to support the people in my own personal life who are being hit hard right now. This week, we have all become more conscientious about our next paycheck, and some of us may not get one next week or next month. So if you can give a little to an organization that will help someone in need right now, I wish you would, and if you can’t, I wish you well. We’ve all got to do what we can to support those in our lives that we know are currently the most affected by this unprecedented situation, because it is so undeniably, irrefutably true, we are all in this together. But really, aren’t we always all in this together? Many of us are continuing to go to work every day to provide life-sustaining necessities, and all the things we expect to be there for us whenever we need them–healthcare, food, medication, public safety, transportation, public utilities, journalism. Those folks are seeing repetitive social media messages from others of us who are complaining about the challenges of working and learning from home. Please remember that not all of us have the luxury of home computers and home internet access at this time when school and work are online, as libraries and community centers are closed. If you are reading this today, you, like me, are among the more fortunate. I’m going to do my best to be gracious and grateful for what I have and more appreciative of those of us who do the important work of keeping all of us healthy. So, I’m going to ask this of you, if you are like me, and can stay at home for a few weeks, please do so. And, please think about how you might help someone less fortunate today, even if you cannot assist financially. We can all call someone who is alone and make their day, and probably yours too. So, right about now, if you’re still reading this, you’re probably trying to follow where my scattered thoughts are going and asking yourself, ‘why is this woman with no training in public health or public policy writing about these things she’s not qualified to talk about?’ That’s a very reasonable and rational thought. I’m getting to that…

My brother and me at Topp Cats Roller Rink in 1977.

My business partners and I had planned to host a celebratory event two days ago, to announce the lineup for our live music festival, scheduled for October. Tonight, I had planned to celebrate my favorite decade of music by hosting a dance party in my hometown. But because we cannot gather together in person right now, those events were cancelled. The industry that supports my daughter and me is currently on hold. We are fortunate, the event that our lives depend upon takes place nearly seven months from now. Many of my friends and colleagues, fellow small business owners and self-employed individuals are facing significant hardships right now. You may be thinking that entertainment is not all that important right now, and I can understand why you might feel that way. But every aspect of our economy affects every other, and the arts give us something that is intangible, something that sustains us in a way that is vital to our well-being. Music provides an outlet for human emotion, and a vessel to fulfill our need for human interaction. Throughout my daughter’s life, whenever we’ve faced tough times, I’ve always reassured her that as long as we have hope, we would get through whatever obstacles we’ve faced. With hope, we have always had the necessary tool to overcome everything. The thing that gives me hope is music. My daughter’s smile is the only thing in this world that brings me more joy than music. Today, I want to give you some hope and some joy in the only way I know how to do that. So that’s why I’m writing and sharing this Note from the Listening Gallery on March 21, 2020. This week, one of my daughter’s college assignments was watching the 1994 film, The Shawshank Redemption. This very timely exchange of dialogue says what I’m trying to say in a a far more compelling manner:

“Andy Dufresne: ‘That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you…haven’t you ever felt that way about music?’
Red: ‘I played a mean harmonica as a younger man. Lost interest in it though. Didn’t make much sense in here.’
Andy: ‘Here’s where it makes the most sense. You need it so you don’t forget.’
Red: ‘Forget?’
Andy: ‘Forget that…there are places in this world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s something inside…that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. That’s yours.’
Red: ‘What’re you talking about?’
Andy: ‘Hope.”

Tonight I was going to celebrate the advent of spring with a multi-genre 70s dance party, a joyful reunion with many of my family members and childhood friends. The first piece of news I chose to read today was not about covid 19, it was about Kenny Rogers. So, instead of hosting a live, all-genre 70s dance party today, I’m sharing a sweet 70s country playlist that includes 100 of my favorite country songs from my childhood years. So, tonight, you can listen in your home, with your kids, and no matter where you grew up, you can tell them about how Kenny Rogers knew when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. And, if you grew up with me in Linn or Chariton County, Missouri, and were planning to hang with me tonight, you can probably tell your kids about how you learned to dance from watching your Grandpa spin your Grandma around the floor at Buck Cody’s Country Music Jamboree on Saturday nights. And tell them about the time when Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton performed at Buck Cody’s in 1972. Tell them about the time when Sylvia played a concert at our high school gym in 1981. Tell them about how Tommy and Elizabeth Stanley were our cultural curators throughout our childhoods, as we spent countless hours of pure bliss at Topp Cats Roller Rink together. Tell them how you can still feel the muscle memory of the pivot in your feet when Rhiannon or Private Eyes come over the airwaves on the oldies station in your car. Then, turn up the volume on your phone or your computer or your digital speaker and dance around your living room with your kids as you listen to this: Sail away and dream of how our life will someday be.

A 1972 newspaper clipping from The Marceline Press.

intro: “Tracy, never, never, ever let me go”

Tracy was released in 1969

The cover of Tracy, the album, has hung in a frame in the space I call The Listening Gallery (my living room) in the home where my daughter and I have lived since 2003. The record has resided on the turntable of my Grandma Lane’s 1929 Victrola since my dad gave this beloved family heirloom to me upon her passing in 2004. The Victrola is still in perfect working condition, however, this record cannot be played on that device because of differences in records and phonographs in the forty years between the production of the two artifacts. Nonetheless, my deeply sentimental brain has formed this symbolic connection as an appropriate representation of the relationship between my mom, my dad, and me–connected yet disjointed, and never to be in perfect harmony. The album has travelled with me to every home I’ve lived in since 1969, the year of its release and the year I was born. Throughout my childhood, I was fascinated by the cover girl, and charmed by the music and my mom’s story of how she came to own this record. My childhood recollection of that story goes something like this: I was shopping at Ben Franklin one day in 1969 when I saw a display of an album cover featuring a girl who looked a lot like me, but with brown eyes. At the time, I wasn’t sure if Tracy was the name of the artist or the album, but coincidentally, I was searching for a first name to go with the middle name for my baby-on-the-way, that I just knew would be a girl. I thought that name, Tracy, fit nicely in front of Nicole, and I bought the album. In the spring of 1969, my baby was born, indeed a girl, and I named her Tracy Nicole.

Two of my most treasured belongings, an album purchased by my mom the year I was born and my dad’s mom’s beloved victrola.

Today is January 6, 2019, and this is the first week of the year during which I will turn fifty. Throughout the week I have been playing the album Tracy, on my 1990s turntable in The Listening Gallery. As I listen to the the eleven tracks of the album interspersed with crackles from the needle on fifty year old vinyl, I have been transported to the bedroom I inhabited from 1973 to 1975. This is the space where I recall most frequently listening to this record. I can so vividly picture myself sitting in what was called my cowboy bed, with its smooth blonde wooden side rails and headboard with a western hat, boots, and lasso carved into the wood. On the wall above that headboard, hung a framed piece of fabric with the words of the bedtime prayer Now I lay me down to sleep lovingly embroidered into it by my Grandma. Beside my bed hung a page cut from a magazine and framed by my mom, a Margaret Keane print, which I also still have in my possession today. Caddy-cornered across that tiny room, I can picture my massive bookcase, built with love from my Grandpa, and above it, the alphabet flash cards from our Montessori-at-home kit that my mom had thumbtacked across the wall. A large blackboard covered the wall directly across from my cowboy bed. This was my mom’s primary tool for teaching me to read and write. I can see two columns with the months of the year neatly printed in my mom’s perfect penmanship on that blackboard. January through July were listed in the first column and August through December in the second. I realize now, it is because of this list that I have always had a hard time remembering that the end of June marks the halfway point of the calendar year, rather than July. Through listening to the album, Tracy, every detail of the bedroom I have not seen in 44 years has become impeccably clear. I can also make some scientific hypotheses about my brain’s processing and retention of memory. Music possesses such a remarkably powerful, almost magical influence over my mind. I become more and more fascinated with music’s ability to shape my thoughts and memories as each year of my life passes. I am grateful that music can conjure up such luminous detail in my mind and I hope it always will. Does music have this effect upon everyone, and if not, why not?

This image was framed above my record player in my bedroom, 1973-75.

Below the “big-eyed girl” Keane print, was my most beloved possession from those years, my little record player. This was one of those models that folded and latched like a small suitcase. It was made of particle board, covered in a blue denim-looking adhesive on the top half and its base was adorned with orange, blue and white plaid patterned adhesive. Inside the base of the record player, behind the turntable, a little storage space held about a dozen 45 RPM records. It was perched on the top shelf of a black wire rack, with two shelves underneath. The middle shelf held the horizontal stacks of my remaining 45 collection, and my albums were neatly filed vertically on the lower shelf. Right there in my record stand, always first in line with all the other albums behind it, Tracy was warmly smiling at me from two angles (which added to the intrigue). In those years, I considered myself the namesake to the girl on that album cover. She did indeed look quite like my beautiful young mom with her long dark hair, and with my big dark eyes. This photo of my mom and me from Christmas 1971, reminds me of the album cover. Both of us with our long dark hair and our big round eyes looking into the camera from two angles. Twenty-two years later, when I reached the age my mom had been when I was born, I would look even more like Tracy than she had in her youth.

My mom and I both looked a bit like The Cuff Links’ Tracy in the early 1970s.

Although I’ve never possessed the talent to become a musician, throughout my entire life, I’ve found myself feeling intimately attached to certain songs and albums. I have been mesmerized countless times upon hearing a song for the first time. I hope I will always continue to have these experiences. I’ve heard people talk of forever remembering the intimate details surrounding the moment they learned that JFK had been assassinated or more personal memories like a wedding day or the birth of a child. I recall with obsessive detail, personal experiences of myself and my surroundings at times when I was so captivated by a particular song or musician that I was spellbound. These moments are time capsules permanently imprinted in my mind. I’ve written down most everything that has happened in my life, rather compulsively ever since I could write. I wrote everything because I so rarely found the courage to say anything about what I felt or believed or hoped. I have spent the past two years reading my writing from 1976 to 2016. There is a great deal in those old notebooks and scrapbooks about what I was listening to and how that music impressed itself upon me at the time. Of course, what my parents and grandparents were listening to in my early years determined what I heard and liked. By 1975, at the age of six, my taste in music had become predominantly influenced by Saturday morning episodes of Soul Train followed by afternoons at Topp Cats Roller Rink. Fifteen years later, I thought I had found my path, a way to pair my passion for writing with my love of music and make a living. I decided to attend the University of Missouri in pursuit of a career as a music journalist. But instead, after college, I managed a live music club until the night when I fell for a tour manager, which sent me off on an adventure I could never have predicted for my life. While both music and writing have remained two of my favorite pastimes, the two never converged as I’d hoped. A journal entry from 1991, age 22: “I want to transport myself into the music I’m listening to in my headphones. I want to remove myself from what I am feeling and living, and BE inside of this music.” Reading those words 27 years later, I can still distinctly recall how I felt and what I meant at that time.

The Listening Gallery, where my daughter and I listen to music digitally as well as on shellac, vinyl, and cassette.

Ten years ago I was approaching the age of forty, and Spotify was brand new. I spent countless hours of exploration, finding the purest joy in reconnecting with music from my childhood and sharing that music with my ten-year-old daughter. I decided then to create a soundtrack for my life–something that she could keep forever, to remember the songs and artists that have left an indelible impression upon my life. I assembled a Spotify playlist called audiobiography. I selected one song released during each year of my life that best represented what was most influential to me during that twelve month period. Since then, each year, I’ve reflected upon my listening habits of the past decade’s releases and added a track on each birthday. On my 48th birthday, I wanted to expand upon this creative process. I decided to take my old notebooks and journals to the places where I was living when I wrote them. In the green fields of rural Missouri and the golden sands of Southern California and the red dirt of Oklahoma, I read my own writing while listening to specific albums I remembered most loving when I was living in each of those places. I reflected on the memories that these old notes, both musical and written, surfaced in my heart and my mind, and recorded my observations into a new notebook. Next, I assembled Spotify playlists for each year of my life, consisting only of songs I knew I had listened to during each particular year. The final step in the process are shared here with you, my Notes from the Listening Gallery. These are the essays I’ve written in my living room {The Listening Gallery} while listening extensively to each playlist. I’ve spent entire weeks listening only to specific music from a specific year of my life, and only the music I am certain I was exposed to during that particular year. To fully participate in this sensory experience, I would like to recommend that you create a Spotify account if you do not already have one. There are both free (with commercials) and paid (uninterrupted listening) subscription options. With each chapter, there is a link to the playlist I created for that year. It is my hope that you will find a sentimental connection to the notes I have written and shared from The Listening Gallery/aka my living room. Especially if you were a 70s child, 80s teen, 90s young adult, and are now, like me, in the process of accepting yourself as a 21st-century older adult, I believe these notes will resonate with warmth and honesty and provide multiple points of human connection. Please remember that the music selections discussed in Notes from The Listening Gallery and included in the playlists are neither an attempt to critique or catalog the most popular music from each year, nor is the selected music intended to represent music from all regions or all genres from each of the past fifty years. It’s far simpler than that. The music selections include only the artists and albums I know that I was exposed to during each year of my life. My hope is that the outcome of this project will cause a collective awareness of music as an emotional conduit, profoundly unifying us, quite like the people who made that remarkable pilgrimage to Woodstock in 1969. Individually, they migrated across the country seeking personal fulfillment and finding a community of an estimated half million people. Regardless of every possible difference between us, I believe music is truly the tie that binds us. I hope you will enjoy this historical musical exploration–part science project, part autobiography, my audiobiography, composed of both written and musical notes. Perhaps my project may even inspire you to find a creative exploration into your own journey through life. Before diving in to the work, I do feel I must include one comment about my writing style. Nearly thirty years ago, I was consistently advised by my journalism professors that my sentence structure was too long and my writing in general, far too “flowery”. Fair warning. Now, the time has come for me to take a lifetime of listening and writing, and to formulate these notes into something thoughtful and compelling, personal and communal. listen to my audiobiography