Tag Archives: songwriting

It’s Almost Always Entirely About ME!!

Oh my god. You know how sometimes you open your inbox and there’s an email in there waiting for you, and you open it and it  makes you just think: what the fuck?

For me, that was yesterday.

Wayne, my 2nd ex-husband, is in Nepal right now, just tramping around. And yesterday, he emailed me from a cafe there. I won’t tell you everything he wrote, but the main thing he said was that he was in a cafe in Nepal, listening to “Breaking Glass.”

He said he would explain when he got back to NYC.

I can’t wait.

“Breaking Glass” was not the first song I ever wrote, but it was the very first song I ever performed as a professional singer-songwriter in New York City. I was 21 years old. It was at Gerde’s Folk City. I performed other songs immediately after singing that one, but, technically, that was the first one I ever sang for an audience. (It was well received and it was the very best night of my life.)

Image result for gerde's folk city

Several months later, the song was recorded on vinyl for Fast Folk Co-op, which was run by the late Jack Hardy. Now all those records are in the Smithsonian and Smithsonian Folkways Records offers them for sale on the Smithsonian website.

I was on two of those records before I left the Co-Op and sought non-Suzanne Vega-pastures beyond the West Village, because she was making my life as a singer-songwriter there exceedingly difficult (also known as “a living hell”). (I won’t use the “B” (female dog) word in regards to her, but I will allow you to think it quietly amongst yourselves, and I will also allow you to wonder if I might not be harboring even nastier words, even allowing you to consider, for a moment, the enormous range of my vocabulary and the sheer volume of nasty words I have access to in my brain… and then the blog post will resume.)

How on earth Wayne came to be listening to “Breaking Glass” while in a cafe in Nepal is really an interesting question.  I’m guessing he downloaded it to his iPhone from the Smithsonian website, but I don’t know that for sure.

But then I wondered, how would he even know that song was available for sale online? My folksinging days were all part of my life from long before I even met Wayne. I was married to Foun Kee back in those days. And then I wondered if maybe Wayne had been on my Wikipedia page and found it there. (A page, I might add, that is not at all current and not entirely accurate. And even though I really honestly appreciate whoever it was who created that page,  I wish that whoever created that page would go in and update it. Anyway.)

Why on earth Wayne would want to look at my Wikipedia page, I don’t know. After all, he has the full & vibrant, unending gift of having known me in person — my indisputable insanity having overflowed within his very domicile — forever imprinted in his very being now. Why he would want to read about me (somewhat inaccurately) online is a complete mystery.

But then it made me wonder if he’d been to my blog. (This thing you’re reading here.) And then of course, I immediately hit the proverbial “rewind” and thought of all the stuff I’ve posted here publicly about both of my marriages, but certainly about that marriage specifically, and it just made me sort of cringe.

Oops. Um. Well, shoot. Sorry about that.

I don’t know. I am always operating under the majestic delusion that no one I know personally reads my blog.

I know that a stalwart few of you have been reading my blog for a really long time now. This specific blog has only been here on WordPress for a few years, but I’ve been blogging online since 1997, before it was called blogging. And my most popular blog was when Marilyn’s Room was housed at GoDaddy. Back then, I had thousands of readers every day, and a huge portion of those readers were colleagues from all over the world. Another huge portion of those were family members, both estranged and not-so-estranged.

It made me insane. Everyone reading over my shoulder like that. Everybody had an opinion about what I wrote and they would email me and let me know what it was (sometimes not very nicely, either). Eventually, I left GoDaddy, pulled down my web site, and started a very obscure blog here on WordPress.

And I loved it. The mental liberation. I had, like, maybe 2 readers. And because you really had to hunt diligently to find me, I figured those 2 readers actually just wanted to read my blog and not find constant fault with my thinking. Or at least not email me about what they thought my faults were.

Eventually, though, it became excruciatingly clear that blogging in obscurity kept your overall career really obscure. So I put the URL back and sort of became “public” again. I don’t have thousands of readers anymore, because I haven’t published anything new in a long time, but I do have hundreds of readers, every day, from all over the world and yet I still blog away as if no one I’m blogging about is ever gonna read the darn thing.

So that was sort of a rude awakening, and even though Wayne’s email yesterday was extremely friendly, and so it gave me hope that he hadn’t just been reading my blog or he probably would have said something more akin to things he said while we were married (i.e., “I really love you, Marilyn, but you know, sometimes I just want to push you down the fucking stairs”), it was still a sort of warning flag that I ought to maybe think things through a little more before, you know, plastering it to the blog.

Well, I promise to give it some very serious consideration and I will get back to you about that soon.

On another topic…

This morning, gang, was so beautiful. When I awoke, the sun was just barely coming up; it was clear and crisp and gorgeous outside my bedroom windows. As usual my mind was overflowing with the  Muse, and Eros was everywhere. However, it was only 58 degrees Fahrenheit. That is quite cool for August. A chill was in the air. I still had all  21 of  the windows in the house wide open, you know? So the cats were pretty darn frisky in that chill and I had to put on my flannel bathrobe when I got out of bed and went down to the kitchen.

But the chill was bittersweet. It made me realize that, yes, summer is indeed waning. Fall is just around the corner.  And even though fall means  Nick Cave in New York City (!!) (yay!!) (his Conversations resume in Finland on Monday!!), it also just plain means the summer will be over soon. I need to get a grip on life. Get it to slow down somehow.

Part of the insanity of spending the entire summer at my desk, trying to re-write Tell My Bones for the 17 hundredth time, is that I lost track of a lot of things — to an escalating degree. Not only did the State send me my new & delightfully updated, delinquent, School Tax bill, but also, on Thursday, it came to my attention that the trash collectors did not collect my trash. I wondered why that was, when they’d clearly collected everybody else’s trash.  Crap. Then I remembered that I hadn’t paid that fucking bill. So I had to run to my computer and pay that fucking bill. And then the gas bill came: Did you forget something last month? You’re a little behind here.

Ditto on the electric bill.

Then the local Cub Scout troop came by, to see if I had my non-perishable grocery contribution for the Food Bank… ME: “Is it time for that already? I thought I had until closer to the end of August?”

THEM: “This is closer to the end of August, ma’am.”

(Wow. Welcome to La-La land. I really need to finish the re-writes on this play.)

But I just don’t want August to leave me yet! Loyal readers of this lofty blog no doubt recall how much I love bluebirds and what they symbolize to me (actual happiness – the kind I didn’t have for most of my life but do indeed have now). Well, here is the calendar that’s been on my wall all month. How poetic!! How can I possibly let it go??!!

Yes!! Bluebirds!! Of happiness!! Just for me! I don’t want to turn the page…

Anyway. I gotta get started here, gang. Plays don’t re-write themselves.

I leave you with me, circa Summer 1982. I was an extremely shy folk singer back then. When they asked me to be on this record, I was over the moon. This is me & my guitar, and Mark Dann playing bass — he also engineered it. Jack Hardy produced it.

Okay, thanks for visiting, gang. I love you guys. See ya!

“Breaking Glass”

I was doomed to live in New York City
On a block where accidental babies
Went out with the trash;
We shared a two-room apartment,
Tiny and cold
To the tune of a love, by winter,
Growing old
And the sound of an angry young woman
Breaking glass.

I recall our lives were never empty
There were tears enough for the third who entered
And beckoned your past;
The hours you kept were deceitful
And it had to show
The passion of time she burned
I couldn’t control;
I was trapped in my raging fury
And breaking glass.

There’s no telling how the coming of love
Will find us
There’s no guessing in what way
It’s gonna set us free
There’s no doubting that the anger of love
Can break us
When our actions don’t even come close
To the people we wanna be most
And our dreams don’t work out as the glories
They’d promised to be.

Without excuses I left the table
Well, I ran like hell while I was still able
I started anew;
I’ve lost some weight and I’m strong
And happy now
I got over the fiery anger, though
I don’t know how;

The songs we knew, they don’t drive me crazy
Well, I stopped the drinking and being lazy
It’s over at last;
The painful sheer rejection has
All gone past;
The tunes of deceit and loneliness
Fading fast;
Gone are the days of anger
And breaking glass.

There’s no telling how the coming of love
Will find us
There’s no guessing in what way
It’s gonna set us free
There’s no doubting that the anger of love
Can break us
When our actions don’t even come close
To the people we wanna be most
And our dreams don’t work out as the glories
They’d promised to be.

c- 1981 Marilyn Jaye Lewis
First of May Songs, BMI

Still More from Hell’s Kitchen

Although today, the song is actually from the East Village, circa 1984. (As usual, if you’re on your phone, you gotta turn it sideways to see this music-related post.)

You’ll notice, once you scroll down a little, that my hairstyle changed drastically by the time I was living in the East Village (also called Alphabet City back then).

The East Village (Avenues A through D, and E.14th Street to Houston Street) has been completely gentrified nowadays, but back then, you only ventured into the East Village if you were either Puerto Rican and born there, or you were really poor and/or a struggling artist of some sort and still wanted to live on the island of Manhattan.

I, of course, fell into the 2nd category.

I left my first husband in 1983. Technically, I left because of a misunderstanding. I was pretty sure he’d told me to get out. He claims he didn’t say this and was furious when I left him, refusing to divorce me for another 7 years. However, he was always saying these weird, convoluted things to me, like, “Has it ever occurred to you to stop taking drugs??!!” “Are you ever going to grow up??!!” “Are you ever going to stop fucking around with musicians [male & female] and behave like my wife??!!”

ME: (Question #1)Yes.

ME: (Question #2) I’m not sure.

ME: (Question #3) No.

So I moved out and all I could afford was a 2 bedroom floor-through in an old tenement on E. 12th Street, between Avenues A & B.  But don’t let it fool you; the “bedrooms” were only big enough for a bed, and there were no doors – one room led right into the next. There was a non-working fireplace in the front room, and a non-working fireplace in the kitchen, along with the cast iron bathtub. However, someone along the way had been thoughtful enough to put in a half-wall of glass brick to sort of give a feeling of privacy to the bathtub, so that was super nice! People sitting at the kitchen table didn’t have to look directly at you while you were bathing. And then the toilet was in a tiny closet at the very back.

The entire apartment was maybe about 600 square feet, and the whole building leaned in the direction of the East River, so you had to get used to walking, sleeping, and sitting on an extreme slant. I can remember sitting at my kitchen table and writing in my journals, feeling like the chair would topple backwards at any moment, the sloping floor was that extreme.

But I lived there for 9 years until I ventured into my 2nd marriage (where the questions put to me by my second husband were remarkably similar!).

I have some amazing memories from that era in the East Village, gang. I was still playing music out in clubs all the time. I had a new band and sometimes I had a manager (although we argued a lot and often she was indescribably pissed off at me because I was indescribably opinionated). I had indescribably huge amounts of sex in that apartment, too. And some of it was actually really good sex, too. I wrote constantly. Songs, mostly. But I wrote in my journals all the time, documenting everything, including my own insanity. And I also began taking my fiction writing seriously while living in that apartment – I was living there when I first started getting published in underground zines.

The neighborhood itself was just awful. It was full of deserted tenements that looked like bombed-out buildings. These were called shooting galleries because junkies would go in there to have a semblance of privacy while they were shooting up or nodding out. Because of the heroin problems down there, crime was also really bad. And when crack came in, the neighborhood got vicious.

But art was all over. Iggy Pop lived a couple blocks from me in one direction. Richard Hell and Allen Ginsberg lived a block away in the other direction (not with each other, though). Life Cafe was around one corner, where a number of my friends gave poetry readings, and The Ritz was around the other corner (where I saw many cool musicians, including but not limited to: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Nina Hagen, and Lou Reed. And back then, tickets to these shows cost $13.50)

There were a number of sex clubs in the East Village, where BDSM was going into some really dark realms. Stuff was going on that even I would shy away from.  There were a few after hours bars. The Mafia had a store front up the block from me. There were dirty cops on the take all over the place; cops from the 9th Precinct, which was just a  horrible precinct back then. Dirty cops scared me more than anything I had encountered up to that point, and by then I had already been raped a number of times. But dirty cops were just fucking scary. I accidentally walked in to a video store on Avenue A once, when a cop was in the middle of a payoff. He saw me see it, unfortunately, and even though I tried really hard not to see it and left right away, he followed me all the way home. And the cops did shit to my friends that was truly terrifying.

There were people having sex in the parks all night, including friends of mine who were turning tricks there to make enough money to score heroin. They were wretched little parks. They had swing sets and sliding boards and teeter-totters for the little poor kids who would play there during the day. But then public sex was rampant there during the night.

Of course AIDS was everywhere by then. Most of my friends were dying from it, right and left. I literally lost count of how many friends died from AIDS.  And it was also during this time period that I volunteered for Visiting Nurse Services of NY and watched a lot of people die (see my post about Peter Hujar here.) I was also taking that songwriting workshop with Jim Carroll at that point and was writing some really cool songs.

The one I posted today is called Avenue A. It’s a rockabilly number, actually. This is a 24-track demo, but still analogue. Rob Nash is playing the electric guitar (check it out  – he was great.) His wife, Judy, was on drums. Lloyd Blake was on bass and then me on acoustic and vocals. This is a really fun demo, gang. I always liked it.

All righty. So here’s the hair from that era. First, me on the Double R subway train during the daytime, with no make-up and no Aqua Net hairspray:

Me on the Double R

The performer version of me back then, with make-up and hairspray. You can see here that Aqua Net hairspray really was awesome stuff!

Marilyn Jaye Lewis with make-up and hairspray!! Although I went by the name Marilyn Jaye then. My legal last name back then was Chong.

All righty, gang!! I gotta get crackin’ around here.  Hard at work on Chapter 20 of Blessed By Light. Thanks for visiting! I love you guys. See ya!

My Very Favorite One from Hell’s Kitchen!

(If you’re viewing this on your phone, you gotta turn it sideways to see this!)

Today marks the 38th anniversary of my first wedding day!

Yes, on April 9th, 1981, in the late morning, I took the RR subway train (now just called the ‘R’ train) to City Hall in downtown Manhattan and married Chong Foun Kee. I was 20, he was 25. It was a cool but very sunny day. Spirits were high! We had lunch at Dolly’s Diner afterward with our two witnesses — a gal who was studying at Vidal Sassoon’s to become a hairdresser. She was originally from Pennsylvania. And just some guy we knew from Australia, whose name I do not recall, but I think it was something like Keith.

After lunch, my husband accompanied me back to our apartment. For him, it was move-in day. He was very old-fashioned and did not move in with me until we were legally married, although several weeks prior to the wedding day, he had picked out our apartment in The Camelot Building, on the corner of W. 45th Street and 8th Avenue, in the heart of the theater district, just off Times Square.  This area was also known as Hell’s Kitchen, but it was at the edge of it; much nicer than where I had been living prior to that — on W. 50th and 10th Avenue, which, back then, really was “Hell’s kitchen”. It was poor, violent, wretched, bleak. I had moved into our new apartment almost immediately and was already calling it home on our wedding day. (The Camelot Building is still there, btw.)

We stayed married for 9 years, although for a good chunk of that time, I lived by myself down in the East Village (called Alphabet City back then) and went positively haywire. But in a good way, overall, I think. However, during that marriage, I wrote my absolute best songs.

This one here, She Ain’t No Virgin At All, was hands-down my favorite song of all the songs I ever wrote. I wrote it in 1982, when I was 22 years old and had been playing the folk clubs in Greenwich Village (more commonly known now as the West Village) for several months by then.  Maybe close to a year.

This demo was made in my drummer’s bedroom, on his 8-track. He played a synthesizer and some sort of percussion – maybe a drum machine, but when I played it live, it was some sort of acoustic percussion instrument. I played the acoustic guitar on this demo. It’s just me singing. Lots of reverb, though. Anyway. I just love this song. It’s about guilt and infidelity and the question of redemption. The demo is analogue and obviously really old. You need to turn up your volume.

Enjoy, gang. This was a period of my life that really was truly magical.

One More from Hell’s Kitchen

Yes, it’s that time! When I regale you with another one of my songs from my Hell’s Kitchen singer-songwriter days. (If you’re on your phone, you gotta turn it to the side to see this post correctly.)

This is a song I wrote in 1982.  I wrote it primarily for Blare N. Bitch (who was not called that back then, and back then, she played bass) because I was indescribably in love with her, but I also wrote it for all the other girl-musicians around the Lower East Side back then, who all had dark hair, played punk rock, and wore black leather motorcycle jackets. And, of course, played around with all that heroin until it became a really bad habit.

I never, ever touched heroin because I knew I would be a prime candidate for becoming an addict. Plus, heroin seemed to be better suited to the girls who played electric guitars.  I already had a ferocious problem with pills and bourbon.  But I played folk-country music in Greenwich  Village (the lower West side), so pills and bourbon fit in just fine there.  (I’m only partially kidding.)

Once again, this is the only digital demo of this song that I have. It’s not my favorite because I prefer the very first, homemade demos, of all the songs I wrote. But it’s an okay one.  I definitely love the guitar work here, just not crazy about the vocals.

Blare N. Bitch of course got clean, moved to LA, stayed clean – lo! these many decades later – got all inked up and is a truly awesome heavy metal guitar player, even though all of us are now pushing [WHISPERS]: sixty!

“Wild as Jordan”

I rarely talk about those early years when I was a singer/songwriter in New York City. I was actually really good. My songs were in a very folk/country/acoustic rock vein. But I hated the music industry. Despised it. It was sleazy, gross, disgusting, insulting, repugnant and offensive.

(A great song about that era in the music business, before the crash brought on by the Internet, is Tom Petty’s raw & staggering song, Joe  –  video here)

Part of writing my memoirs includes re-recording, with my friend Peitor out in LA, about a dozen of my best songs, ones I wrote between 1981 – 1986.

Need I say that the Muse had me up early again today, at 4:38 AM, this time talking to me about the songs I wrote; suggesting that I revisit them right away?

A few years ago, I’d made a CD of my favorite 4-track analog demos so that I wouldn’t lose track of the songs, but at 4:38 AM this morning, I had no idea where that CD was.  Something –the Muse is my best guess — told me to pull open the top drawer of my night stand, and lo & behold, there it was. Just sitting there.

I looked over the list of the songs that were on the CD and that, alone, felt like a gift. All my favorite songs, some of which I had forgotten about. Including a song I wrote in 1985, called Wild as Jordan.

It had always been one of my favorite songs. It’s a very upbeat, twangy acoustic number; on the surface, about a girl breaking away from a really cold/hard/puritanical man. The chorus is a mixed-metaphor about a fire that rages as wild as the river Jordan; a fire that will burn through all the tears she’s crying.  (The lyrics are below.)

I suddenly realized two things. The first, with a  jolt: that the chorus really reminds me of the gorgeous guy at work. It was almost, like, inescapable, but in a really empowering way. I guess I really, really like that guy.

The other thing I realized, or I should say, “remembered,” was that this was my rape song. I was 25 and I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life being a girl who was screaming inside, and so I took so much rage, took all the fear that crippled me, and tried hard to turn it into something lyrical that could redeem me.

To experience the one rape, at age 14, all isolated and on it’s own, was paralyzing enough. But to then experience a sort of avalanche of rape that I could not get away from, is –what? Debilitating is just a really misleading word.

So many women have told me that they find me courageous, so strong, so tough; women who have known me for a really long time, and not just who have known about my personal insanity, but also what I went through in my career (after I left the music business). (And oddly enough, I found the sex industry to be way less sleazy than the music business was. I guess because in the sex industry, everything was just so plain and out in the open.)  Women who knew, first, what I went through by my just being a woman; next by how I always insisted on a certain level of artistic standards — be they beauty, rage, insight, curiosity, confusion, or even lust — in an industry that people insisted on calling porn, but which I considered the erotic arts.

I had to show up at meetings that were almost always exclusively men who were quite at home within the sex industry, and I had to appear as both a woman who was attractive, pliant, and who would be easy to get along with, and yet a woman you were never, ever, ever going to fuck even if all of life depended on it.

It was a very fine line to draw in the sand — needing those men as my business partners.   That combination of men and sex. And how men behave around women that they objectify as only sex or all about sex. And I certainly was pretty much all about sex, but I wanted to be treated with respect. I had a vision that had a lot to do with God, and the gift of human sexuality, and the beauty of even the confounding aspects of sex as it became art.  Yet, at the same time, there was always that voice in my head reminding me that these were men, and based on my experience of men, that meant they could rape me when I least expected it and I would probably be helpless to stop it.

Still,  by then, I had gotten to a better place in my overall world and was at least no longer ruled by that little voice.

Honestly though, I was so neurotic about it in my early 20s, that every day, I went out into the world, praying that I wouldn’t be raped again before the day was over. If I got into a cab alone (and this was back when 99% of all New York City cab drivers were white New York men, so I wasn’t coming from some xenophobic place), but I would get into a cab and pray that I wouldn’t be driven off somewhere and raped. I gave myself these little pep talks: Well, if he does rape you, eventually the rape will be over and he’ll probably let you get to where you’re going.

Such an insane way to be alive every single damn day. In such a huge city that was, of course, filled to the brim with men.

To think of me as courageous, so strong  or so tough, in my mind is so misleading. It seemed the one and only thing I ever really knew how to do was to get back up.  I knew I would get back up. As a girl (and still today) my heroes had always been men, and they were always men who endured, who got back up.  To me, life seemed to be: “Okay, stop crying now. Get back up.”

The overwhelming physical force of men’s bodies still astounds me.  I’m not a total weakling; I can open a pickle jar and for some reason, I feel really proud of that. Still. How little effort a man can put into tossing you into a wall. Or suddenly grab you by your hair and throw you up the stairs. The terror I have felt over a particular man’s physical force — and in my case, that force was followed by getting forced to fuck; raped really mercilessly. A relentless scenario that I had learned was coming and could do nothing to stop. That kind of physical force is so terrifying.

But, as I said already, a time came when I was so tired of being the girl who was screaming inside. Plus, I really loved sex and I wanted to enjoy it.  The truth was that no one was abusing me anymore.  It got to the point where I was so desperate to reclaim myself, I dealt with my anxiety under a microscope: Here, this minute, I would remind myself, you are not being raped. See how safe and un-raped you are? Moment by moment, freeing myself from that mental prison.

In fact, in order to calm myself down in social situations, where I was always at my most neurotic because society is so unpredictable, I used to make mental lists of all the men who were in my life who hadn’t raped me and weren’t likely to ever rape me. There was no other list. All the men who were in my life were all on the list of men who weren’t raping me. And for me, at least, the huge number of men in the world who weren’t raping me, compared to the tiny percentage who had, meant that the world was mostly a profoundly good place. It helped me turn my whole perspective around.

I even started to find men in my world who wanted to protect me, my birth father was probably the most profound one. I finally got to meet him when I was 28.  Even though I only knew him a brief time before he died, there was never a man who loved me more, or who wished that he could have protected me, or had been there to, I guess, kill the fuckers who had raped me. It was spiritual, but it felt like true vindication for me.

All these things helped to bring me, over time, to a really good place. A present sort of place, where I don’t live in a dark past.

When I heard Wild as Jordan this morning, for the first time in a really long time, all these thoughts came back to me. Who I was, who I was trying to be, and now, who I’ve managed to become — a woman who fought so hard to differentiate between the truly profane and the truly sacred, and, well, won.

And once again, I thought, man, I’ve got the most amazing Muse. To wake me at 4:38 AM just to give me this amazing gift of myself.

Wild as Jordan

The darkest eye a man can know
Is a love born hard in a cold man’s bed
Baptized by fire; 

I’m the darkest eye, I’m the cleanest bone
I can wrap my needs ‘round his aching limbs
Like a dangling wire.

He can’t judge me by the seeds I sow
I see no proof that the Lord resigns from
A coarse desire; 

He can knock me down to my all-time low
But this joy of pain is a waste on me
‘Cause I’m getting so tired. 

But there’s a fire in me
That rages wild as Jordan;
A fire whose flame completes
This fever I deny.
Gonna set that fire 
To the tears that I’ve been crying
And burn clean through into
The hallelujah side. 

There’s a truth that lies in the bitter blow
That a vow sells cheap in the worn out scheme
Of the cards I hold; 

I can risk his pride to retrieve my own
‘Cause the hours I keep are a starless sleep
With a man who’s cold. 

But there’s a fire in me
That rages wild as Jordan;
A fire whose flame completes
This fever I deny.
Gonna set that fire 
To the tears that I’ve been crying
And burn clean through into
The hallelujah side. 

© 1985 Marilyn Jaye Lewis
First of May Songs, BMI