Madonna’s Like a Virgin album was one of the first cassettes I had. I remember choreographing and performing countless “shows” with my sister and our friends that we’d then force our parents to watch repeatedly. Madonna was the first female singer I adored closely followed by Cyndi Lauper and Pat Benetar. These women opened up a whole new world to me and made me daydream of being a star. Every kid should have that.
“You must be my Lucky Star, ’cause you shine on me wherever you are, I just think of you and I start to glow, and I need your light, and baby you know”
My first listen to Joni Mitchell was on vinyl. A beat up LP of Blue that I rescued from the thrift store stacks. I remember how her voice moved through me, how I felt like she was singing truths about my own life even though I was only 19 or 20 and had barely begun to really live. She sang of feelings I held in my heart and dreams I kept close. I’d spend hours lying on my bed replaying her records. You would have thought it was 1972 not 1992.
This song, “A Case of You,” has been covered by many artists but my loyalty will always lie with Joni’s original version.
“Part of you pours out of me in these lines from time to time. . . oh you are in my blood like holy wine, and you taste so bitter but you’re so sweet, oh I could drink a case of you. . . and still be on my feet”
It was back when MTV actually showed videos and you’d wait for hours for your favorite video to air. It was before the age of the internet, before everything was one Google search away, and I was sitting on the couch waiting to see Tori Amos. I’d never seen or heard anyone like her. She was quirky and raw and I listened to Little Earthquakes on repeat. To this day, some twenty years later, I can still sing the entire album from start to finish. She made sense to me then, as if all the poems and journal entries I’d filled blank books with were not crazy, that I was not crazy for feeling all the feelings and writing about them.
“I got something to say you know but nothing comes, yes I know what you think of me, you never shut up, yeah I can hear that but what if I’m a mermaid in these jeans of his with her name still on it, hey but I don’t care ’cause sometimes, I said sometimes, I hear my voice and it’s been here, silent all these years”
I was a music junkie in my late teens and early 20’s. Jenny Two Times and I spent hours upon hours at the record store, driving around Silicon Valley singing at the top of our lungs with not much else to do except work our shifts at Michaels, go to junior college classes, meet up with friends at the coffee shop, and go to concerts. It was 1993 and I was 20 years old. My father had just died and I was full of confusing and conflicting feelings. And then I found Liz Phair. I’d never heard a woman sing like that- with an imperfect voice, unapologetically bare and sometimes crass. She was edgy and angry and a tough chick. In her music I found an outlet for the anger and grief churning inside me.
“And I want a boyfriend, I want a boyfriend, I want all that stupid old shit like letters and sodas, and I can feel it in my bones, I’m gonna spend another year alone, it’s fuck and run, fuck and run, even when I was seventeen”
It was my second year at UC Santa Cruz as a Women’s Studies major and I was taking a Women’s Poetry class. In our section (a small group discussion) one of the lone boys in the class pulled out an acoustic guitar and sang “Both Hands” when it was his turn to share a poem that made him love poetry. And that? Was my first introduction to Ani DiFranco. It was love at first listen. Her songs were rebellious and tough, tender and honest. They gave voice to many of my own thoughts, ones I didn’t think I was powerful enough to share. Listening to her made me feel brave and her music became the soundtrack to my year.
“I am writing graffiti on your body, I am drawing the story of how hard we tried, I am watching your chest rise and fall like the tides of my life, and the rest of it all, and your bones have been my bed frame, and your flesh has been my pillow, I am waiting for sleep to offer up the deep with both hands”
I tried to fit in when I first moved to Santa Cruz for college. I wore the Birkenstocks. I didn’t shave for a winter. I smoked weed. But none of those things stuck; I just felt like I was trying on a persona of an earthy girl. But then one rainy winter afternoon as I attempted to study in a coffee shop, I heard Billie Holiday. Her voice broke with emotion as hippies and hapless skaters and fellow students sat around sipping coffee and I was changed. I grew up listening to Frank Sinatra but this was the first I’d heard Billie. Jazz was a staple in all the local cafes and I quickly devoured her music, listening to it on repeat much to the annoyance of my housemate. I discovered Ella Fitzgerald too and together, us three, we sang our hearts out. This was right before the movie Swingers came out when everyone got the Big Band craze. It wasn’t long until I was donning vintage dresses, going to jazz shows, and learning to swing dance.
“Good morning heartache, you old gloomy sight. good morning heartache thought we said goodbye last night, I turned and tossed ’til it seemed you had gone,but here you are with the dawn”
Who are your musical influences?