My Response to “Where Are the Female Voices From This Community?”

I’ve seen several blogs asking “where are the female voices from this community?”

I posted a blog over on Tumblr, since that is where most of this dialogue is taking place.

It is the opinion of one female wizard rocker. I realize that what I have to say sounds nothing like the blogs I’ve read from other wrockers. I am not sure if that is good or bad.

I can only speak for myself, and there was really nothing for me to post other than, “Well I am not completely surprised.”

That, however, does not make much of a sound-bite or quote.

If you are interested you can read the entire thing on my Tumblr page.

I will leave you with these questions though: Should we have done more to try changing these potentially dangerous situations? Was there anything we could have done? Is there something we in the community can do better in the future? Perhaps the ladies who are now speaking out have made us more aware, and more likely to say something if we see something inappropriate happening.

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Life’s Toolbox, Introspection, and Why I Write Songs

I realized something this morning. Every person goes through life with a toolbox. We pick up tools as we go along and others are passed down from our parents. The key to a happy life, and to being a solid parent, is to periodically go through the toolbox and check to see if some of the older tools are broken, and if so, determine if they can be mended. If not, perhaps they can be thrown away.

We’ve already inherited some baggage from our parents and picked up bad habits along the way. It’s best to get rid of that stuff before we start building the toolboxes for the next generation.

We will never be perfect and we will always have a few things we wish we’d done differently. However, if we make every attempt to be mindful of our thoughts, actions, and reactions, we can hope to make our children’s lives that much more stable than our own.

I realize this isn’t overtly about music and may seem out of context, but writing lyrics is one way for me to dig deep, pull out all of my junk, take a close look at it, and attempt to purge what is old, useless, or even harmful.

It can be an uncomfortable process, but the introspection is worth it in the end.


In Which the Ringlords Interview Me

Saturday night I was honored to do a live chat interview with the Ringlords.™ We talked about music and books and music about books. From my first band, to my beginnings in wizard rock, to future projects (Wheel of Time rock!?!?!) we covered it all.

The Ringlords

Ringlords.™

Here is a transcript of the conversation:

{Please note that due to a bit of a lag, a few of the answers got separated from their questions. I put them back together here for ease of reading. I left nothing out and left all typos in place.}

Ringlords™: All ready to begin ?

Me: YESSSS! I see things now!

Me: You know, the page looked really weird. I thought it was becasue i was used to the phone app, but I think it was a freak alt-universe Ringlords page!

Me: Is this mic on? *tap tap tap*

Me: Hello hello?

Ringlords™: So, Mandala , Tell us a little about your new record

Me: I am really excited about a five-song EP I worked on at the end of last year called “Momentarily Distracted.” It is, in many ways, quite a departure from my other music projects.

Me: You can listen to it here! http://mandalasongs.bandcamp.com/

{Note: I am embedding a player here since a player appeared in the comment, though this shows only the first song}

Me: It has a very different feel from my other two projects: Witherwings and Mandala at Twilight. I basically get right to the heart of some very raw emotions with the lyrics and sparse musical arrangements. Piano and vocals dominate this album, with a couple of songs being backed by a classic trio of piano, drums and bass.

Ringlords™: very cool … we were amazed to see Vick Degiorgio listed on the credits … awesome musician

Me: He really is! He and I go way back! Let’s tag him.

Ringlords™: by wild coincidence Vick apparently knows Sue Martin who is friends with our Chicago crowd from waaay back

Me: Vick Degiorgio and I met in 2002. He was playing bass at a show for a friend of his and we got to talking when I was waiting to buy a CD. He invited me to his weekly music group and the rest is history.

Me: That history is that I performed in a band (that Vick was in) called SusieCool and the Coolotees from 2033-2009. This group of very experienced musicians took me under their wing to sing harmonies and ended up letting me sing lead on quite a few songs. They asked me to fill out the band right before they were to tape a poilet for a tv show that was to be an Orlando version of Austin City Limits. It never got picked up but it turned into some of the best years of my life. Before that performance they put me though “Crappy-Bar Boot Camp” where we played every dive in the city of Orlando 6 or seven nights a week (late into the night when I had to work the next day) until the taping of the show. They wanted to make sure I sounded, looked, and felt like I was a PART of the band and not the new girl. That was the best education I could have ever asked for as a musician and a performer. I earned my place on the stage, that’s for sure.

Me: Ha! I am not a time lord. 2003 NOT 2033.

Me: A name that might be more familiar to your followers though, is Russ Benoit. He played drums on two tracks on this album. You might know him as The Creevy Crisis.

Me: Gotta love the wrock family. I am so happy he played on the songs despite them NOT being wizard rock this time around.

Ringlords™: Yeah, Russ was working on a film, wasn’t he ?

Ringlords™: We understand that one of the songs on your new record has a literary background

Me: Lag…. gaaaahhh.

Me: Yeah, so though this is not a wrock album, or an album with a vampire lit theme, I could stray too far from my love of books!

Me: *couldn’t BIG DIFFERENCE

Ringlords™: Yes… for those of you unfamiliar with FB’s poor programming, anything that does not make them money is treated poorly

Me: “Wrong” is inspired by “The Taker” by Alma Katsu. It is the first of three books, but only the first two have been published. I was drawn to the horribly selfish deeds of the main character, Lanny. She falls in love with the boy in her town that all the girls are in love with. She does some pretty terrible things to try to make him hers. As the story goes on, she is made immortal and makes him immortal against his will to be with her forever. But he doesn’t want to be immortal. He does not love her with the same intensity that she loves him, and the big catch: only she can kill him – and he is begging her to. That is where the book begins… at the end, so to speak.

Me: What drew me to her and her situation is that, despite what sounds here like a very selfish character, is really a very complex woman who you come to sympathize with and like. It is a GREAT story. Oh and there is SO. MUCH. MORE. One word/character: Adair. Yeowza!

Ringlords™: You have quite the literary roots in your music … Tell us how you got into the wizarding sound …

Me: I attended a HP convention in 2007 I think. ANYONE? 2007? Called Phoenix Rising.

Me: It was not my first exposure to wizard rock, that was a Harry and the Potters concert the year before. But PR was the first time I thought that wrock might be for me. After returning home, and going on MySpace and seeing how supportive the community was, I really felt safe to try writing music on my own for the first time.

Me: Goggle confirms May 2007.

Me: I posted my first songs onto MySpace in October of 2007 and I have not stopped writing and performing!

Ringlords™: … and there’s was a clip we saw of you rocking with the Imperial Troopers

Ringlords™: Lessee if we can scare up the vid … hang on

Me: Ha! The Mandalorian Mercs!! They were so much fun. I love mixing with other fandoms. (I am a HUGE Star Wars fan, BTW.)

Me: I use a pic of that performance on my Witherwings band page.

Me:

 

Ringlords™: YES !! the very one !

Ringlords™: LOL! … very suave !

Ringlords™: Is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with that you haven’t tried ?

Me: I really love the Wheel of Time series, but my friend Pattie Beavensaid she would go postal if ever there was WoT Rock. I fear she might be serious so I have not attempted any. DON’T SPOIL THE LAST BOOK FOR ME ANYONE!!!

Ringlords™: Robert Jordan humm ? … we always wanted to see a band based on Heinlein … you should try something like that …

Me:  I’ve read a few Heinlein books… Other than Witherwings, I cannot see dedicating an entire album to one book or author. Books will always influence me though. as they do many musicians!

Ringlords™: So, where are you headed next ?

Me: I’m really just focused on now. I’ve got a new little baby here and he is keeping me quite busy. He loves music though so I can do shows. Lining up one for the Friedricksbrg VA area in the fall right now. Working on booking for 2014 as well.
I’ve worked on some new lyrics here and there but nothing polished.

Ringlords™: Ahh, bringing up baby … That’s gotta put the pressure on you … how do you handle juggling home and gigs?

Me: My husband helps me out a lot at shows. He is merch boy/Daddy extraordinaire!

Ringlords™: Do you get nervous before a performance ? & how do you handle a mistake when you are playing ?

Me: I do get nervous, but it is also a rush.
As for mistakes… Ha! I am like the story of George Washington announcing “I cannot tell a lie! I chopped down a cherry tree!” I usually announce it. “Whoops my bad!” “Whoa what was THAT!?” Luckily I’ve performed long enough that if I forgot the words, I am able to vamp and just keep playing until I can bring that part aroiund again and start over. Or I just make up words or sing about forgetting words. I don’t get upset about it. Unless I am trying to video the performance. But then again, there is a video of me forgetting the lyrics to “Malfoy” that I posted on Youtube. That was harder though because I was singing to an iPod. Then you cannot vamp. I just made fun of myself and started over. Let me find the video.

Me:

 
It comes about a minute in.

Ringlords™: How often and for how long do you practice?

Me: I really “cram” before a show.I get in ruts sometimes, and other times I regularly practice once a day. By that I mean spend time on music whether playing or writing. Baby has made that irregular though. Speaking of baby… sounds like I am needed…

Ringlords™: that’s our cue to wrap it up here … we want to thank Mandala for hanging out with us this evening and struggling through FB’s wony behaviors … be sure to pick up a copy of her new record at that Bandcamp link up above

Me: This has been really fun, guys! Thanks so much for having me and promoting the album. I am SO SO proud of it. $5 on b

Me: bandcamp

Me: Whoops! http://mandalasongs.bandcamp.com/

Me: Ha! Well i posted it again. 🙂 Thanks so much! Have a great weekend everyone!

Me: ❤

Ringlords™: And keep an eye on this page … we plan to bring you an interview with a certain author one of these days coming up


In Which I Participate in “Community Service”

I bet you are thinking, “Mandala? Doing community service? WHAT could she POSSIBLY have done?!?!”

It’s not what you think! Let me start at the beginning.

Diagon Alley is a Chicago-based band made up of some ridiculously talented musicians. I always look forward to their Tuesday night Twitter antics, known as Tuesday Night Community Service (TNCS) and was excited when they asked me to be one of their interviewees.

The premise is simple: the first part of the interview is about the musician’s current projects. In the second part, Diagon Alley gets personal. The third part is the lightning round: questions are fired off faster than answers can be returned. Want to see what it’s all about? I’ve transcribed my TNCS experience below.

*Note* Like with any instant messaging conversation, the questions and answers often get a little out of order. Inevitably, someone is typing an answer while another question or comment is being fired back. I took the liberty of making a few minor adjustments to the actual order in which a few of these comments appeared to make it less confusing. I didn’t omit anything; I just tried to keep comments on one subject matter together.

*Second Note* Diagon Alley IS a punk rock band. There are a couple of bad words and some toilet humor, so be warned if you take offence to such things.

Here we go…

Diagon Alley: Welcome to Tuesday Night Community Service.

Diagon Alley: Tonight we will be interviewing the very lovely @MandalaSongs Everyone follow and tune in!

Me: @DiagonAlleyBand Lovely? Why, thank you!

Diagon Alley: But of course.

Diagon Alley: Hey! How’s it going on this wonderful evening?

Me: It’s going very well! So glad to be a part of this tonight!! 🙂

Me: Just for the occasion, I dug out my cup from The Dungeon in NOLA. That was a crazy night with you guys & @DrearyInferi WTB!

Me: (Wrock the Boat)

Diagon Alley: Haa! You want to talk about Nola eh?

Me: I might plead the fifth depending on what you ask 😉

Diagon Alley: See the thing is..none of us can remember a single thing. We were just..home.

Me: I woke up to find I had my pic taken with Col. Sanders. Don’t remember that #WitheringsFact

Diagon Alley: Thats hot. Did you get some chicken?

Me: I wish I could remember! I think not. 😦

Diagon Alley: Now this story just took a shitty turn..

Diagon Alley: We are honored you have joined us. So what have you been up to? New songs? Shows? Tell us good things.

Me: My most recent project was a rather dark, piano-based, 5 song EP available only as a physical CD http://mandalasongs.com

Me: Going old school NO DIGITAL! j/k

Diagon Alley: Why you messing with us?

Diagon Alley: We will be stealing a copy as soon as we see you!

Me: You got it!!!

Me: I also am having a digital download sale over at http://witherwings.bandcamp.com

Me: http://witherwings.bandcamp.com is the only place to find my first Witherwings CD “Swept Away” in a digital format.

Diagon Alley: Any shows in the near future?

Me: I am working on a show for 2014 ATM. But that’s a tad into the future. I just had a baby in November, so no shows yet.

Me: I am SO open to doing shows, but I just didn’t plan on anything for the near future. Are you inviting me out to Chicago?

Diagon Alley: Excellent! Congratulations! That is all wonderful news!

Me: This kiddo is already really into music. I’m going to start training him to back me up very soon.

Diagon Alley: Family bands rule! 🙂

Me: No way! I think he will bring in the ladies to the merch table. He’s a cutie pie!

**editor’s note** I thought the comment “Now this story just took a shitty turn..” was a baby poop joke and so responded with the comment above. My bad.

Diagon Alley: Are you ready to get down to the nitty-gritty?

Me: YES!

Diagon Alley: Haaa awesome.

Diagon Alley: What’s your favorite song to do gardening to? We rock out Kenny Loggins.

Me: Green Day!

Diagon Alley: Who’s that?

Me: Some Environmental band I dunno.

Diagon Alley: They have a cool name. We are thinking of taking that name. You can be in the band.

Me: Sold. I miss being in a band!

Diagon Alley: We just started one. We are called Green Day.

Me: we are going to have so many fans already!

Diagon Alley: Yes. Are songs rock the fuck out!

Diagon Alley: How nitty-gritty do you get?

Me: Well we already established the baby poo factor. That’s pretty gritty!

Diagon Alley: What foot do you put your sock on first?

Me: Left

Diagon Alley: Try the right tomorrow. See what happens.

Me: That’s crazy talk. Too wild for me.

Diagon Alley: What do you do with the poo?

Me: Flush it because we are all hip and with it and use these cool hybrid environmentally sound diapers

Diagon Alley: Like the car?

Me: Yes. Also with no gas.

Diagon Alley: What’s your favorite breakfast cereal and why? Please also note and show your work.

Me: Damn, I was going to run down to the kitchen, and take a pic, but I ate it all! I stocked up on Count Chocula! ALLL GONE.

Diagon Alley: This is now a problem.

Me: I even looked to see if I had a pic of a box on my phone. I love it that much – I thought for sure I would have taken a pic

Me: Instead I will give you this pic of an omelette I once made.

omelete

Diagon Alley: We want omelets

Me: I will make some for our first band practice as Green Day.

Diagon Alley: How will you handle your breakfast

Me: I recently learned to make oatmeal with chocolate chips. See a trend?

Diagon Alley: The trend is set.

Diagon Alley: How does there color purple make you feel?

Me: I’m afraid I never saw that movie.

Diagon Alley: Did you read the book? Oprah is in it.

Me: Oprah WROTE it. You see her all the time in Chicago, right?

Diagon Alley: She buys weed from us. Cuki isn’t allowed within 100 feet of her. Old shit.

Diagon Alley:  Sooo. Are you ready for the lightning round?

Me: I sure hope so… I mean… BRING IT!

Diagon Alley: Pizza or Tacos?

Me: tacos

Diagon Alley: live or memorex?

Me: memorex

Diagon Alley: trolling or fly fishing?

Me: trolling on the net baby

Diagon Alley: Leather or micro-fiber?

Me: Leather

Diagon Alley: Overalls or Suspernders?

Me: neither

Diagon Alley: Dolphin or Porpoise?

Me: dolphin. people always confuse those two…

Diagon Alley: Polka or Waltz?

Me: POLKA

Diagon Alley: Butler or bartender?

Me: Bartender

Diagon Alley: Dark Grey or Light Grey?

Me: dark

Diagon Alley: Menthol or Full-flavor?

Me: cough cough neither

Diagon Alley: Grey or Gray?

Diagon Alley: Pj’s or Snuggie?

Me: pjs

Diagon Alley: Foot or Feet?

Me: It’s good to have two

Diagon Alley: Fight or Flight?

Me: I’m BUCKBEAK!

Diagon Alley: Baby Ruth or snickers?

Me: Snickers

Diagon Alley: Compression or Extrusion?

Me: Extruder!

Diagon Alley: Sharpie or dry-erase?

Me: Permanent!

Diagon Alley: Flour or Flower?

Me: flower

Diagon Alley: Cotton candy or a bag of sugar?

Me: both! Pour them in my mouth!

Diagon Alley: Pigeon-towed or Bow-legged?

Diagon Alley: Herpes or Hemmorhoids?

Diagon Alley: Raviolli or Rotini?

Me: yum

Diagon Alley: Cacti or Porcupine?

Me: I love animals

Diagon Alley: Desert or Ocean?

Me: always the water

Diagon Alley: York or New York?

Me: NEW YORK!

Diagon Alley: Dreamsicle or Fudgesicle?

Me: rOCKET pOP

Diagon Alley: Skidmark or Pee Stain?

Me: You are gross

Diagon Alley: Space Shuttle or Space Station?

Me: Don’t make me cry. I no longer have a choice!

Diagon Alley: Skynard or Allman Brothers?

Me: Freebird!

Diagon Alley: Fries or tots?

Me: tots

Diagon Alley: Beer or Shots?

Me: wine

Diagon Alley: Salt or Pepper?

Me: salt

Diagon Alley: 🙂 or 😀

Diagon Alley: Orange Soda or Grape Soda?

Me: Grape

Diagon Alley: Convection oven or microwave over?

Me: We have one that’s BOTH

Diagon Alley: Pandora or Spotify?

Me: Spotify gives me money

Diagon Alley: Handsome or Pretty?

Diagon Alley: Burps or Farts?

Me: burps

Diagon Alley: Bus or Train?

Me: train

Diagon Alley: Him or……

Diagon Alley: ….or himBFxLrPeCcAAIuIk.jpg:large

Me: GGGARRRRRRRRR DON’T SHOW ME THSES THINGS

Diagon Alley: Jekyll or Hyde?

Me: Hyde

Diagon Alley: Slow or Fast?

Diagon Alley: speed of light, or speed of sound

Me: sound. Love me a sonic boom!

Diagon Alley: sabb or volvo

Me: Neither

Diagon Alley: Trampled by elephants or Strangled by snakes?

Me: Elephants. Execpt for that one guy who got smothered by poo.

Diagon Alley: darth vader, or dark helmet

Me: That’s not fair

Diagon Alley: “take my hand”, or “when a man loves a woman”

Diagon Alley: Genesis or Apocalypse?

Diagon Alley: alligator or shark

Me: shark

Diagon Alley: blue or yellow

Diagon Alley: candy or chocolate

Me: ALL OF IT

Diagon Alley: Genesis or Phil Collins solo?

Me: Genesis

Diagon Alley: blondes or brunettes

Me: BLONDE

Diagon Alley: jumping or flying

Me: FLYING

Diagon Alley: wipe the seat clockwise, or counterclockwise

Me: You guys know to wipe? That is so awesome!

Diagon Alley: Genesis or Peter Gabriel solo?

Me: Peter!

Diagon Alley: have wrong size shoe, or wrong size underwear

Me: Ew. Harder to loose the shoe.

Diagon Alley: Giving money for the homeless or buy beer for the homeless?

Me: Well they might just buy beer. Eliminate the middle man

Diagon Alley: colonoscapy or a tummy tuck

Me: There is a poo theme here.

Diagon Alley: smoke 13 cigarettes or drink 13 beers in a row

Me: Beer.

Diagon Alley: Last one! Sausage fingers or Crooked talon toes?

Me: WHAT THE I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT IS.

Me: *panting*

Diagon Alley: We would like to thank the very wonderful @MandalaSongs for joining us tonight. We had a blast! Thank you.

Me: No, Thank YOU!!! That was a blast!!!

Me: See you guys this weekend for band practice. What do you want in your omelets?


My Thoughts on Amanda Palmer and Musicians Playing for Free

In the last couple of days I have seen many people posting about the recent controversy involving Amanda Palmer.

On August 21st, Amanda put out a call for volunteer musicians to join her and her band-mates on stage in every city of her tour. She offers to pay them in beer, t-shirts and hugs.

Several news outlets such as Prefix and Digital Music News have published articles either bashing this practice or talking about how people are bashing this practice in light of the huge amount of money she raised using Kickstarter. There are some pretty harsh replies in the comments.

But when I read the articles, I was not outraged. I didn’t see the fault in this request.

I thought from the headlines that I would be upset. After all, I am a musician who has had to play plenty of shows for no pay. Instead I was given the meager compensation of being allowed to operate a merchandise table, sometimes only during my set. I was even asked to play a show this past summer at a very large convention where my perks were so non-existent, I was not even privileged enough to be able to attend the convention!

Needless to say, I turned that one down.

I am lucky that my fans are generous and I usually make enough to cover gas and tolls, and can stash a little away for my next big equipment purchase (I am so close to getting new monitor speakers for the studio!!!)

I get the outrage though. I get that musicians are insulted that somehow people expect them to perform for free while everyone else involved in a production gets paid. I am not sure how or when this started, but it seems pretty common these days.

In fact, a former band-mate of mine, who has a new band and is playing regular (paid) gigs, recently posted a response he wrote to a request for his band to play for free. I might have clapped after reading it. I certainly shared it with anyone who would read it. This is what he posted on his facebook page:

Got an e-mail asking The StraightJackets to play a corporate affair…for free. They promised us “exposure” via their website and videos posted on YouTube that would be far more valuable.

Oh, by the way, they wanted us to bring the PA, too!

My response:

Thanks for contacting The StraightJackets.

Corporate shows start at $1500. Outside shows cost $1000 more because of the added PA necessary.

We will add your event to our calendar which gets THOUSANDS of hits and will add videos from the show to our video page giving you incredible exposure for your product. Literally millions of hits per month. You will have more clients than you have product for. That will more than offset the fee we charge to play for your event.

What…you don’t think that the exposure is worth the money?

Neither do we.

But, we are glad to provide you with this exposure since you have asked us to rehearse until we are good enough to be in demand, buy a full PA big enough to handle an outdoor event, travel to your event, set up our PA, play for your event and entertain your clients and friends, tear down, and load out our gear for you…all for free. I guess you are also wanting us to be skilled, talented, and professional, also for free.

Sorry.

You don’t give your pools away for free and we don’t give our music away for free, especially to corporations. You will be paying someone to pick up the garbage for your event, the least you can do is pay the musicians, too.

Good luck on your upcoming venture.

Stuart

So yeah, if this email got me all riled up, you would think I would be outraged by Amanda Palmer, right? Nope. Why? Because if I was reading Amanda Palmer’s blog, it would be because I was a huge fan. And if one of my favorite musicians gave me the chance to play with her on stage in my home town, I would take it without a thought. Beer, a t-shirt, and a hug as payment? Bonus.

She has a paid band backing her up. This call for volunteers is a way to incorporate her fans into her art. It is something she is known for. There is a reason she has a HUGE following and can do spontaneous shows and pack the place.

The controversy apparently arose from the fact that she raised a huge amount of money from Kickstarter. They wonder if she has all this cash, why can’t she pay these musicians?

I think people are missing the point.

Yeah, she did raise over a million dollars from Kickstarter, but since she breaks down where that money is going in her blog it is clear to see that this money is allocated to her amazing Kickstarter rewards and to creating and distributing the album. It has nothing to do with whether or not she has money left over to pay musicians; she IS paying her touring band. Instead, it is about her fans having a once-in-a-lifetime experience to become a part of her show rather than just watching it from afar.

So yes, I think musicians should be paid, but sometimes you take a freebie because it is something that is so cool, you just can’t pass it up. It might even lead to a future paying gig. There is a big difference between being asked to be the main entertainment for a private party and asking if any fans would like to be a part of their favorite musician’s show.

So you just keep doing what you are doing, Amanda Palmer.

***UPDATE*** (9/20/2012)

Digital Music News posted an article yesterday called Amanda Palmer Agrees to Pay Guest Musicians. The article quotes the blog, but does NOT post a link to it. I always like to read things in their entity, so I searched for it on my own, and now you can read it for yourself.

While searching, I also located a blog from September 14th that further explains Amanda’s personal experiences with volunteering or having to pay her own way, and the benefits she received from it.  For example, I learned about an experience she had with her former band:

“…sometimes even paying for my own travel for the privilege of playing with my idols. (the dresden dolls lost a lot of money in order to travel around opening up for nine inch nails. and good lord, were we grateful to lose that money…it won us a huge bunch of fans).”

Amanda makes many, many good points about how different things work for different artists, no matter how famous or how obscure. I really recommend reading it!

My opinion on the matter still remains that there are situations in which I volunteer my time, and others in which I do not. I guess it depends on whether or not I feel I am being taken advantage of, or if perhaps I am gaining some sort of advantage (even if small) for doing so. Only good can come of her decision to pay these musicians, but I still do not fault her for asking for volunteers. After all, I am in the middle of recording a CD at the moment, and where would I be if I didn’t have musician friends who were willing to work for peanuts?! The good will comes back around, my friends.


The Real-Life Inspiration for One of My Songs

This might be a little too heavy a blog for a Sunday afternoon, but I could feel my heart breaking as I read this article my father sent to me and my husband.
For anyone familiar with my Witherwings song “The Dark Before the Dawn” who has wondered about the deeper inspiration for it other than just the HP series, here you go.

I wrote “The Dark Before the Dawn” in the Spring of 2010, while on a train in Poland going from Warsaw to Krakow. My husband and I had just visited the Warsaw Uprising Museum and spent a considerable about of time in the Katyn Massacre exhibit.

As an American, I only recently learned of this tragic, tragic event due to the horrific plane crash that had happened a week before our trip to Poland. The plane was carrying Polish VIPs, including President Lech Kaczynski, other senior government officials, military officers, clergy and the head of Poland’s national bank. They were traveling to Russia to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre.

What I learned from the museum exhibit was that the 20,000 missing Polish prisoners during WWII were always attributed to the Nazi Germans, but it had come to light, when thousands of bodies were found in mass graves in Russia, that the executions carried out by Soviet secret police in April and May 1940 were the members of Poland’s elite. They not only killed military and government officials, but clergy men, doctors and teachers – the educated; anyone who had any influence in Poland; anyone who might inspire the Poles to stand up and fight.

I stood in a room that contained 20,000 2″ x 3″ photos of the dead. I need you to stop and think about that. It was a room, covered from floor to ceiling, with photos. It was actually so overwhelming that I had to step out. Many of these people were ordinary citizens. Wiped out. Eradicated for being educated.

Warsaw Uprising Museum: Katyn Massacre Exhibit

Warsaw Uprising Museum: Katyn Massacre Exhibit

So the Russian government finally admitted their role in this horrendous action, and the dignitaries traveled to Russia for the anniversary ceremony. But on April 10, 2010, the plane crashed upon landing, killing all aboard. Imagine.

Imagine. As if the people of Poland did not already suffer enough from the original massacre. And here it was happening all over again. Once again the elite were eliminated, this time while traveling to pay their respects to the original victims

The black box was never sent to Poland and the coffins were sealed. There were other suspicions, but what else would you expect when you consider the history between these two countries?

Then this article appeared in my inbox. My heart broke all over again…

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Mandala’s 54th Annual Grammy Wrap-Up

The Grammys: drama, nerves, last-minute changes, wardrobe issues, vehicle troubles, and yet, when it came time for the show, everything worked out smoothly. Sounds like a typical award show, but actually that was a description of my life just one day before the big event.

Once I got through all of that, though, it was the most fantastic night and the best concert I have ever attended. I mean, just looking at the number of legends I saw in this one evening is a bit overwhelming to take in. It is hard to believe that it all actually happened.

Let’s start at the beginning.

I was rather stressed as I flew to L.A. with my husband because there were a few details that were still up in the air. There were some snafus that shook me a little but, in the end, I was able to get my hair done, and I was able to move our drop-off time up by an hour and a half. So, when it came time to head to the hotel lobby and get into our town car, I had no room for anything but excitement.

The drop-off process was very quick and smooth. Too quick in fact, as we were trying to settle up with the driver while the greeters opened the doors for us to get out.

It was really illuminating to see how the red carpet process works. Unlike the Oscars, where you see the birds-eye-view cameras and the crowds of fans lined up to cheer, the Grammy red carpet is an incredibly long tent tucked back behind the convention center. There was only about 50 feet of drop-off space before the entrance to the tent and the staff herded guests into it pretty quickly. I was shaky nervous trying to get a photo outside of the tent before I had to put my camera away.

Mandala on the red carpet

Upon arrival, just before entering the tent

I actually had a hard time trying to work the buttons on my phone. Another disadvantage of such a small area is that I didn’t really have time to check that my dress was in place before I found myself in front of cameras. Luckily, everything was in place!

I quickly learned that the “no camera” policy was more aimed at certain aspects of the event than the event as a whole. For example, if you were walking past all the interview booths, you could not take photos, but they had areas for photo ops that were strategically placed so that you would not be able to snap a pic of something you were not supposed to. One such photo area was the classic sponsor wall.

That is when I got these photos:

Mandala on the red carpet: Grammys 2012

Iconic Red Carpet Photographs

So… what does go on inside of that tent?!

Upon entering we were asked “Are there any nominees in your party?” Nominees were escorted to the right where all the networks and entertainment shows were set to do interviews. The first booth the musicians walk past is Entertainment Tonight and the second is E! After that, they sort of ran together for me and I do not recall who was where. I think there were maybe about a dozen interview areas. At the end of the line, there was a very small seated audience who clapped as the celebrities got their photos taken by the gaggle of photographers squeezed into a booth.

Behind-the-scenes photo via the official Grammy fb page

Though we were not allowed to linger, I did my best to walk slowly and take the whole thing in. I did see Bonnie McKee, Joy Williams, Sasha Gradiva wearing that bizarre robo-arm outfit, and the two darling little girls who had been on Ellen. I’ll admit, I am not as celebrity-savvy as I thought I was because I had to look up a couple of these people.

One of the coolest things that happened to me was that, as I walked past one of the TV booths, the video camera guy pointed to me and motioned with his hand for me to twirl. I looked over my shoulder and then looked at him, pointed at myself and mouthed “Me!?” He nodded, and so I did my best runway twirl. I walked behind one of the many support walls, freaked out a little, and giggled with the woman behind us who seemed just as excited about it as I was. When I reappeared from behind the short wall, he asked me to do it again! This was just before the photographers at the end of the line, so I tweeted it quickly before I might be asked to check my phone at security.

Then we went through the metal detectors and they didn’t take my phone. By the way, they check for tickets about every 50 feet it seems. There is no sneaking in or getting through to any area into which your ticket did not allow.

We were then shown into the convention center where the pre-telecast awards were already under way. The organizers were thoughtful to provide water and so we grabbed a couple of bottles, did a lap around the lobby and then headed into the awards.

Shortly after arriving, I saw Tony Bennett receive an award for the duet he did with Amy Winehouse. He accepted it along with Amy’s parents. It was really moving to hear Amy’s father speak about her and the foundation they have started in her name.

Tony Bennett and Amy Winehouse's Parents

Tony Bennett and Amy Winehouse’s Parents at the Pre-Telecast Awards

After 15 minutes or so we decided to find some seats. It was a giant convention center ballroom, so the seating was very casual, with folding chairs, wide aisles, and the ability to seat yourself at anytime in any seat that was available. We sat down close to the back along an aisle. Getting settled in, we saw Taylor Swift receive two awards for “Mean.” She was so cute. She talked about the satisfaction of the whole experience saying there’s nothing like someone being mean to you, writing a song about it, and then getting a Grammy for it. Satisfying and validating indeed, Miss Swift!

A few more awards were handed out, but some of the winners were not present because they were probably at rehearsal in the Staples Center.

Then an award in the rock category came up, and Foo Fighters were announced as the winners and, oh my goodness, they stood up RIGHT across the aisle from where were were sitting. We were right next to the Foo Fighters?!? SO cool! They made a similar speech to the one they gave later that night about being old school, recording in Dave Grohl’s garage and using all analog equipment. I love the part he added later in the televised awards about really needing to practice your craft and not relying on computers to fix or enhance a musician’s performance. He said that it must come from the heart, not the computer. Well said, Dave.

At the conclusion of the pre-televised awards ceremony, everyone exited the convention center, and headed toward the Staples Center. This put us right out onto Figueroa Ave at the big front entrance. It was a beautiful late afternoon and we slowly filed into the large venue. Upon arrival, we once again had to go through security, and once again, no one confiscated our phones. We were handed hefty programs and strange, colorful bracelets that said “COLDPLAY MYLO XYLOTO.” We hung around for a bit trying to waste some time before going to our seats, but my feet were starting to rebel from my footwear. I took one look at the escalator and realized that there was no way I could get on it. I envisioned some sort of escalator-style paper shredder incident and we quickly located an elevator. This is when we learned that our seats were apart from the general admission and required us to go through the VIP seat section. Did I mention we had to show our tickets about every five minutes? It was still happening. We should have looked for our seats sooner, because the food and beverage stand and the area as a whole was much less crowded on the VIP level. We located our seats at the top row of the mezzanine level, below the box seats, house right. The seats were fantastic and completely worth the extra money we spent on them.

As soon as my husband and I sat down, I saw that everyone around us had their phones out and some people even had cameras. What a relief! I was going to be able to document the evening after all. That is, until my phone’s camera started to freak out and my battery started getting hot to the touch. Thank goodness my husband has the same phone, so the video and pics are seamless with mine. At least I was able to squeeze out a few tweets when everyone else was NOT tweeting or texting and sucking up all the bandwidth.

Mandala in her seat at the Grammys

In my seat. Great view, wouldn’t you say?

The show was pretty much how you see it on TV. There were large screens above and to the sides of the stage, so when they went to commercials, we saw the “coming up” announcement that viewers saw. It was at this time that I saw the fastest set-up tear-down of sets that I have every seen in my life. Many of the sets were huge and complex, yet they were up and down in minutes. There are two points of interest that viewers might not know in regards to what goes on during the commercial breaks. The first is that the large screens show performance highlights from past Grammy Awards, and the other is that if you decide to get up to go to the bathroom, no matter where your seats are located, you are forced to wait until the next commercial break to be seated. I ended up watching Katy Perry’s glass-shattering performance while standing in the aisle.

The people on my twitter feed were sort of underwhelmed by Coldplay’s performance but, I must say, as an audience member it was absolutely magical. The bracelets all lit up differently and went of in different patterns. The lights were as neon as the artwork that towered over the band as they performed, and the whole space felt like a colorful constellation. I just kept saying “wow.”

One of my two Coldplay wristbands

After the show, those of us who purchased the “2012 Grammy Celebration” after-party tickets headed back over to the Convention Center. The path was mostly indoors or covered, and again, we experienced more metal detectors and ticket checks.

The after party was a bit of a let-down. It was a grand affair, don’t get me wrong, but I am not sure it was worth the cost of admission. Entertainment was provided by Kenny Loggins, OneRepublic (remember their song “Apologize”?) and DJ Michelle Pesce on the main stage. Arturo O’Farrill along with members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra entertained in the Jazz Lounge. The Jazz Lounge was swanky, but there was no available place to sit unless you had some sort of special pass. The main stage area was an ADHD sufferer’s dream. Everywhere you looked there was something going on. While the musicians performed on the main stage, there were also smaller stages scattered about the room.  Some stages held Vegas-style dancer girls, while others held shirtless men doing some sort of martial arts, or flipping around in the air on elastic bands. The food was fair but the dessert line was too long to tempt even me. And that is saying something.

The organizers provided other entertainment in the form of activities at various booths. We got to play pinball on machines that have not yet been released. One was a really fun Rolling Stones-themed machine with small band members positioned around the playfield. This was when I got my one celebrity sighting of the after party: Kathy and Richard Hilton, also know as Paris’s parents. Not exactly who I was hoping for at such a massive gathering of musicians I adore, but at least I can say I smiled and they smiled back. My husband and I got our photos taken at the “Rock Star Photo booth” where a video of a photographer walked you through your shoot and flashed photos of celebrity poses to mimic. Props and a hair fan were provided and we got an 8×10 printout of the photo collection. It was actually quite fun and we laughed our way through it.

There was also a long line for an area where you could get false eyelashes, but I was not sure what it was all about and not willing to wait in another long line after the photo booth. There was free champagne though, so that seemed to keep people happy.

We were ready to go just before midnight. It had been a very rewarding, but very long day. Overall it was a magical, inspiring evening full of legends and up-and-coming stars. It was a dream come true to be there in person and be a part of the glamor.

Want more coverage? I made a wrap-up video containing video footage plus photos not shown here. There is minimal overlap with the blog. Enjoy!