Los Angeles, CA – “Take Another Little Piece of My Heart Now Baby” – January 28, 1999

I awoke with my insecurities screaming.  My nighttime demons haven’t visited me in quite some time and I feel their abuse more intensely as a result.   Without Kipp, I have no one except my pen and journal to console me. The last resident in this hotel room smoked cigars, I’m sure of it, despite the “Smoke-Free Room” signs plastered everywhere and the sweet-stale stench adds insult to injury.

In the dream I just arrived from, I’d been on the phone with my lawyer finishing up a conversation when I “by the way” -ed him.

“By the way, Fred, what’s up with that movie soundtrack we were going out for?  ‘Anywhere But Here.’  Did the producers like Mom’s and my song “Amity” for it?” Pause.

“Uh…..” said dream Fred, “we didn’t get it.”  My dream heart felt soggy.

“Really?  We didn’t get it?  I thought it was a done deal.  Do you know why they passed on it?”

“Yes,” Said Fred “but I don’t think I should tell you…” I woke up feeling guilty, exhausted, and frantic.

I lie in the dark, holding my breath, eyes shut thinking about the audition I have tomorrow for the role of Janis Joplin.  After my ego-petting-zoo experience playing at the Hollywood Bowl with Dad, I somehow wound up with a movie agent despite my disinterest or talent.  Nevertheless, Rick Ax, having seen me perform, insists I have natural talent and sends me for auditions whenever I noncommittally roll through town for music-related things.  I’ve read for “High Fidelity,” “Coyote Ugly” and “Three Kings” and nothing has ever come of it, and never before have I cared.  But… playing Janis in a movie depicting her life would be something else.

I stare at the space between my blanket hem and a crooked sprinkler in the blue-grey ceiling, clutching my anxious rabbit of a heart.   I imagine myself in a casting director’s office trying to mimic Janis Joplin, an impossible task if there ever was one. As I read the lines, everyone starts laughing at me. 

“Sorry, sorry,” they apologize not being able to help themselves, “Please go on,” they insist before exploding into uncontrollable hysterics again.

I turn over, nearly taking out the Aztec-patterned lamp on the bedside table in this wretched downtown Hollywood hotel. I’m hoping to shake the night demons but they come at me from a new angle: Music.   

I hear people saying, “I don’t hear the hit.”  “Where’s the single?” I’m desperate and sad and letting everyone down.  I’ve gotten way over my head.  I feel trapped.  I’ve got to get out of here!!!

It’s noon:30 when I wake up again, slightly hungover. I splash water on my face and answer the door when Scott Sax, my writing partner from Warner-Chappel, knocks.  He drives the demons out with his funky suit jacket and Puff Daddy hat and his sweet, cool, funny vibe.

Together, we partially write, two songs, “All This Time,” and “March Like Soldiers.” He is a lifesaver. I am honored to get to write with him. Thank GOD he came when he did.

Los Angeles, CA – “Snapshot at a Quarter Century ” – January 6, 1999

It’s the day before my 25th birthday and my moods are as tropical as a pina colada.  I cannot stand the way I feel in my skin.  I look fat and bloated especially when I smile which makes me frown and feel worse.  My eyelids feel too heavy to open and my hair feels like straw.  

The fact that it’s a glorious day and I’m in a green Mustang convertible, sipping a mocha frappuccino outside a Starbucks on Sunset Strip just proves that happiness is not contingent on external circumstances.  Joy is an inside job. 

Let’s see, how can I summersault myself into a different way of metabolizing this moment….

I’m wearing my tight red sweater.  Golden, shoe-string braids hang lightly over my shoulders. The breeze is cool on my cheeks and life is actually pretty sweet.  I mean fuck it,that my new barrettes flew out of the window as I cruised down the 10.  Fuck it that my pants feel tight around my waist.  I am a totally powerful babe and pitying myself for being a woman is not, and has never been helpful.

There, that’s better.

Dad called while I was grabbing breakfast at “The Firehouse” in Venice.  Over an egg white omelet and hot coco, he congratulated me on making it to a quarter century.

“You’re half my age and you’ll never be younger than half my age EVER again!” He reported enthusiastically which I thought was a very dad-like calculation to have made.  I thanked him for inviting me to this life and letting me tag along for a while on his.  He liked that.

“That’s a good thing for you to say my Sal.”

Boulder, CO – “My Stomach Aches for my Mama” – December 17, 1998

I’m feeling sick to my stomach.  Perhaps it’s because of the severe intestinal flu that sent me to the ER for an anti-nausea IV in the middle of the night on Monday.  More likely it’s from the confounding questions my new booking agent, Cassy Burbeck needs answers to before he can start booking a national tour for me.  Casey wants to know: What’s my budget? What’s on my rider? Who’s in my band? What is my stage plot (what even is a stage plot?) Will we be ready in time for the Lillith Fair?  Where do I see myself in 6 months?  A year?  A decade?  I can’t imagine where I’ll be in 6 days let alone 6 months.  But I need a booking agent.  Booking myself is just the pits!  Venues stiff me and won’t call back to confirm the show beforehand.  Having booked my shows for three months now, I know exactly how much I’d pay not to have to do this job anymore, and when Casey says the going rate for agents is 10% of all gigs, that seems more than fair to me.

But my stomach still hurts, even after reconciling with my choice to hire Casey and answer all his scary questions and when I ask my stomach to tell me what’s at the root of its dis-ease an image pops up in my mind of my mama.  Earlier in the week, she was driving in her car, just minding her own business and was delighted when one of her songs came on the radio.  As she retold the story to me later in the evening on the phone, I imagined her bopping along to “You’re so Vain,” or “Jesse” or “Coming Around Again” as she threaded her way home, over backroads lined with puckerbrush and winter white slush on Martha’s Vineyard. 

At the end of her song, the DJ took a random caller who said “I saw Carly Simon at the anti-impeachment rally the other day and she looked awful.  I tell ya, I used to dig her when she was hanging around with James Taylor but she’s gotten OLD man.”  My mama recounted the insouciant caller with a New York accent.

“Yeah, her skin’s all wrinkly.” agreed the DJ.

“I guess that’s what happens when ya get old.” the caller theorized, “Your skin starts fallin’ off the bone.” They both laughed.  My mama cried all day.  I would too.  “It’s not fair mama.” I told her, “You’re sooooo beautiful! You’re timeless. You’re so talented. You’re a legend!” and I thought ‘why am I going into this profession?!?!

As I hung up I just kept telling myself ‘It’ll be OK. The work I’ve done on myself will spare me the worst of my ego’s weaponry down the line.’  But more than anything, I worry about getting hijacked by the spotlight and imprisoned by the applause.  Here are some exercises I promise myself to do to avoid the consequences of my future successes and failures.

  1. I’ll make fun of myself.
  2. I’ll make a point of enjoying other’s successes.
  3. I’ll separate my self-worth from my music’s value to others.
  4. I’ll never be jealous or bitter.
  5. I’ll never do anything just because it’ll “look good,” or “boost my image.”
  6. I’ll believe in everyone I surround myself with.
  7. I’ll stay curious and humble and trust my decisions.
  8. I won’t trust anyone.

I hope it’s enough. I’m sorry mama. It’s not fair. My stomach aches for you.

Vail, CO – “First Headline” – The Double Diamond – December 6, 1998

Jeremy is predictably late, so even though I begged him to be on time for this, our first real headlining show, it was no surprise to anyone he wasn’t there for soundcheck at 5:00.   But when Jeremy wasn’t there at 6:00 or at 7:00 either, Greg (our sound man and Brian’s brother) checked his mic and guitar for him and we figured he’d make it to the venue before dinner.

But when he still wasn’t there by 8:00 and then 9:00, we started getting worried. It was Colorado’s first big snowfall of the season, and some roads were being closed for those without snow tires or 4-wheel drive.  “Mercury’s in Retrograde” explained the large busted hostess overhearing our predicament.   I checked the state police report for accidents but Kipp reassured me, “Jeremy has a four-wheel, brand-new Rodeo. He’ll be fine.”   

When Jeremy called at 9:30 we were just sitting down to dinner at an Asian fusion place in town.  

“I’ve been in an accident!” he reported, “I flipped my car twice!  My car is totally totaled, man.” He sounded a little high.

“Are you alright?!?!  Where are you?” I yelled over the dinner time din.  “Kipp is coming to get you,” I reassured him.

“No.  Oh, no, no.  Well, thank Kipp for me but, no I’m OK, but I’m an hour away and I ain’t gonna make the show.”

“Where are you, Jeremy?!” His story was beginning to sound a bit fishy.

“I’m in a uh, uh a town near Vail,” he said fishing for a name. 

“Where?!” I wanted to know.

“Uh, a Best Western?”

Did he think I was a complete moron?  He clearly never intended to make it to this gig.  There was no way he was in an accident, a Best Western or an hour away.  This was complete bullshit.

Kipp grabbed the phone out of my hand and told Jeremy in no uncertain terms he was coming to get him.  At this, Jeremy pitched a fit.

“You’re so selfish man,” I heard his defensiveness bleed through the receiver.  “You think I’d make it to the show after I got in an accident man?!?  Who are you man?!  If you showed up in a van right now to pick me up man, I swear man, I would NOT get in that car with you man!” The line went dead and Kipp hugged me.   I stared at a poster of a volcano erupting on a wall and then one of a rainforest scene.  Tears fell out of my face.  Kenny and Brian came to my rescue.  They hugged me and rested their foreheads on my shoulders.  Though Jeremy was absent, for the first time, I felt like I had a real band. 

“My brother Greg can play a little guitar Sal,” said Brian.  “I have an idea, meet us back at the Diamond.  We’ll borrow a guitar from Paul at Howlin’ Wolf and start teaching Greg how to play the songs.”  It was a real last resort but there was nothing left to lose.  When I returned to the club the boys were in the dressing room, instruments in hand. “Let’s do this!” I said.

Our green room was humid with our nervous energy.  The stench of late-night parties and other band’s B.O. haunted the room.  We drank red wine from clear plastic cups and wiped the mirrors down when they fogged up with our enthusiasm.  With 40 minutes till the show, we crammed the mandatory ingredients for 8 songs into a guy who only knew how to play guitar a little.  We laughed at the impossibility of the situation and cursed Jeremy between sips.  There wasn’t a spare second to change into stage clothes in private. Between lyrics, I’d simply holler “Boys, close your eyes!” whip off my shirt, exchange it with a blouse, and yell “OK, Open,” repeating this exercise until I was stage-ready.

Greg McRae

At 11:15 Greg was as ready as he would be.  He felt confident, at least with the first set, and I propped cheat sheets on a scarecrow-like music stand for him on stage.  I entered the spotlight, and explained we were a man down but had enlisted a guy who knew a little guitar, to play our songs “What’s your name again?” I joked at Greg who joined me from stage left.  The audience roared and cheered on our courage as we set off into the unknown. 

Perhaps it was our low expectations or the grace of Dr. Theater but we pulled it off.  We knew intuitively which bridges to cut and what solos to modify.  We were in sync.  During the set break, between signing CDs and taking pictures, I taught Greg the second set and the last 8 songs sounded even better than the first.  People danced and clapped and bought CDs and congratulated us on a great first show.  We loaded up Moby as the last flurries of the early morning fell across Aspen mountains. 

Hitting our crusty, curtesy band-room beds I felt grateful, not angry. Though I must admit, I did get a twinge of satisfaction when I turned off the light and Kenny uttered, “Take that, Jeremy!”

Denver, CO “Swimming in a Pool of Stars” – The Blue Bird – September 14, 1998

Bill Thomas, the president of USA 1 Stop, called to tell me people were going crazy over my CD and he needed to order another 300.  I only had 240 to spare (how exciting).  He told me my music was in the listening stations at Tower Records and asked if I could get him what inventory I had available right away.  I jumped in my storm purple Rav and drove north over purple mountains with the remaining stash I’d been selling out of my trunk.  As exciting as all this buzz is, I’m pretty well exhausted from running the Sally Taylor show on my own.

Later that night, I pulled into my new life coach, Lorrie’s driveway nursing the last of a teal Stanly thermus filled with coffee dregs. I was disheveled, dropping coins out of a hole in my jeans and my unwashed hair slouched lazily and lopsided in a velvet scrunchie.  Lorrie took one look at me and emphasized how important it is to nurture myself in these exciting times so as not to burn out (as is my tendency).  She requested I make a list of 25 things I currently do to take care of myself.

We, MY BAND, The Sally Taylor Band (man does that feel good to say) played The Blue Bird Theater in Denver Saturday night. It was spectacular!  Though there were more people at our CD release party at The Fox on Friday and though we only sold one measly CD at the show, The Blue Bird was superb because I wasn’t AT ALL nervous. 

What was different? I felt spacious on stage – like I had hidden superhero powers I didn’t need to go bragging about – like I had extra joints in my body and spare beats in my heart – like my songs surrounding me on stage lifted me weightlessly. I felt as though I was swimming in a pool of stars.  I guess with a band like the one I’ve now got behind me (Jeremy, Kenny & Brian) nothing scares me.

We played Red Room live for the first time. It went over really well. It’s a song about kissing a bartender named Eric backstage at The Fly Me To The Moon Saloon where the green room was painted red. “The Moon” was the first venue I ever played solo in. It was during the Telluride Jazz Festival and I was nervous. A lot industry people were lining the bar that night. I think I kissed Eric ’cause I needed something to do. Something to distract me. Something to get the butterflies out before I hit the stage but it could’ve just been cause he was cute. It was fun.

We’re playing The Foundry tomorrow.  They’re paying us $500!  Bitchin.

Boulder, CO – “Rhinestone Roller Skates” – Buffalo Exchange – September 12, 1998

The CD release party was, phewwwwww, a big success. There were over 300 people there and we got an encore.   Jeremy and Kenny killed every song. They were so tuned into each other I felt I was actually playing with professionals.

Jeremy Lichter, Kenny Castro & Liza Oxnard In the Fox Theater Green Room prepping for our joint CD release party

And Dave Rastatter! Oh my God, he was amazing.  Thank God he was available to fill in for Brian on the drums last minute.  He punctuated every tune with flare AND snare and learned all my songs in less than a week.  We sold 79 CDs after the show. The line wrapped around the lobby in zigzags. I shook all customer’s hands, smiled for photos, and signed each and every CD sold.

Zuba’s lead singer, Liza Oxnard, and I got a little acoustic gig the next day singing unplugged, with a pair of guitars strapped to our backs, at Buffalo Exchange (the very parking lot I made my first home when I arrived in Boulder).  Inside the second-hand store was every funky garment you could dream of. When I asked if we could wear some of their garb for our sets we were told to “have at it.” 

Like kids in a candy store, we picked out rhinestone-covered roller skates for each other, bright orange boating life vests, and fleece-lined earflap hunting caps with rainbow ski goggles.  As customers shopped we traded off songs while skateing through isles having a total blast.  Liza is really sweet despite her armor-like demeanor.  No one could have such soft skin and be bad.  I love her.  She’s always been one of my musical heroes and it was an honor to play with her in my first (parking lot) home away from home.

After we strummed and sang and turned in our ski goggles and rollerskates, I walked home with a box of CDs I managed not to sell, under my arm.   I decided to drop by the post office on my way home.  My shipping center is located in a duplex shared with a gun shop.  Randomly, a big burly fella was aiming a shotgun at a stuffed buffalo head on the wall when I walked in and nearly scared the CDs out of me. 

Rick, the PO attendant who is adorable and wears nothing but plaid flannel, told me “You’ve got a lot of mail!  and it’s from all over the place!!”  I opened my box “Suite #176 ;)” to reveal 25 individual orders for Tomboy Bride!  I was shocked beyond words and got to work straight away.  I filled out all the envelopes and put little handwritten notes in each one.

I can’t tell you how fortunate I feel.  Who knew you could sell CDs on the World Wide Web?!?!

Boulder, CO – “Musician or Star” – Tribes Rehearsal Space – September 3, 1998

Once upon a time I believed I needed to be a star to be important, to be loved, to be loveable but in the process, I stopped loving myself and started loving an image of myself.

“The music business is harsh,” Mama said, “the closer you get to #1 the greater the insecurity.  The more success you get, the more you feel you’ve got something to prove.  You can never rest.  Your next album has always got to be better…” and all I can think as she speaks and I unintentionally strangle the receiver is:  ‘This is not me.  This is not who I am.  I am a musician.  I am not a ‘star.’  Thank God I am not signed to a label.’  Yet here I am in this little parked car with 800 CDs in the trunk.  I sold a few in the mail this week which I packaged and sent off with little handwritten thank-you notes.  I also got an order from a record store in Japan which I think is pretty cool and wild.

I rehearsed for the upcoming Tomboy Bride gigs with Kenny Castro (bass) and Brian McRae (drums) last night at Tribes Drums headquarters.  Tribes is a major upgrade from the Doppler Circus garage space.  It has an actual heating system, a soundboard that doesn’t crackle and threaten electrocution, and looks out over the mountains where the sky blushes at sunset.  Brian and Kenny are AWESOME and have agreed to be my rhythm section (Thank God!).  They showed up to our first rehearsal with bells on, and my songs memorized and ready to be counted off.  But my guitar player of choice, Jeremy Lichter from Martha’s Vineyard has been flakier than a chemical peel.   It’s a terrible sign that he’s still not here in Boulder two weeks after his due date and he hasn’t even called me.  I just have to pray he’ll be here soon and know the material. 

As I returned to my apartment the sky was chock full of stars and I could feel autumn in the air.  ‘This is the first Fall I won’t be returning to school in my LIFE’ it occurred to me.  But I reassured myself that this next chapter will still be an education for me; a musical education.  No matter what, Fall always feels to me like a new beginning, like the first dunk into a cool pool, a baptism.