Los Angeles, CA – “Best Night of My Life” – The Troubadour – March 20, 1999

Last night was the BEST night of my life and I don’t say that lightly. When
people say: “When pigs fly,” or “In my wildest dreams,”  I now know what they mean. I was in my wildest dreams last night and pigs were filling the sky. I don’t even know where to start, the shock hasn’t completely worn off and the grin (from ear to ear) doesn’t seem to go away even after sleeping.

We got to the Troubadour for a 6:30 load-in.  After losing my voice almost entirely after the Galaxy show, I did a vocal fast during the day, nervously opening my mouth at 5-ish to see if it was still there.  It was horse so I decided against a vocal warm-up (my usual practice). Luckily, it came back almost completely for the performance itself.

I’d never been to the Troubadour despite it being where both my parents made their start.  It’s a tall room with a balcony facing east and a huge stage that takes up 1/2 the room and faces west. We sound-checked, grabbed a bite, and did a little interview with a very nice Canadian man and his wife outside on Santa Monica Boulevard.

At 8:15 I went backstage to get dressed. My boyfriend, Kipp came up and said
“Sally, there’s some guy named Joel from Martha’s Vineyard here to see you.” I couldn’t think of who Joel might be. Confused, I followed Kipp into the hall.  At the bottom of the stairs, there was my beloved brother Ben and his girlfriend Bridge, who I’d previously been told were in New York. I was beyond surprised and excited.

My brother asked if I’d call him up on stage for “Happy Now.”  I was honored he wanted to sing with me but when I called him to come he said: “I’d like to invite one more person up here.”  In turn, I replied, “Oh great, I invite you up and the next thing I know, the whole audience is up here.” 

And out from stage right I see someone coming. It doesn’t look like anyone I know. And then, the spotlight catches her and I almost die right there on the spot. It’s my mommy. My sweet adorable mommy came all the way from the east on a plane (which I know she hates more than anything in the world). And there she is, standing next to me, and then on her knees hugging me, and were both laughing and floating 5 feet above this stage. This stage where 28 years ago she was discovered and I’m more happy than I’ve ever been in my life.

They joined me on Happy Now and then left me to finish up the show.
But I didn’t need to finish.  I didn’t need anything else ever.  I could
have just laid down and died and said I’d already lived my dream.

It just don’t get better than that does it!

Aspen, CO – “Post-Gig Gifts” -The Howlin’ Wolf – December 29, 1998

We’ve played The Howling Wolf two nights in a row.

My audience is so generous.  People shower me with unmerited gifts after shows.  Some give me pot, some mushrooms, some validation, some drunken hugs, and sometimes someone gives me pieces of myself I thought I’d lost for good or didn’t even know to miss.  Sometimes it’s a photograph or the recollection of a summer day our paths crossed at a county fair.  These are the most precious of post-gig gifts. The true benefit of celebrity affiliation is that people collect pieces of your life you didn’t know to make precious in the moment. Here are a few such gifts.

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.

New York City – Mom’s Birthday – June 26, 1998

It was Mom’s birthday yesterday.  She sits so tenderly inside my soul these days.  I can feel her hand on my hand guiding me tenderly into this scary world of music.  She took me into the living room in the early morning light, overlooking Central Park.  She told me she was proud to watch me producing my own record saying “You have to pass the torch on at some point, you know.”  Her eyes twinkled with restrained emotion. The fabric of her, I cradled in my arms.  How can this brilliant, pioneering, sweet angelic spirit be part of my makeup I thought.  She asked me if she could play me one of her new songs and when I said “Of Course mama!” she sat me down on the red velvet couch, fiddled with the dat recording device, and made unnecessary disclaimers about the sound quality and vocal performance before sitting beside me and holding my hand.  Of course, the song was beautiful. It was deep and soulful.  I felt so close to her and feeling close to her I felt closer to the sky.

Ben made focaccia bread birthday cake and lit a votive candle. We sang Happy Birthday which Mama couldn’t help but sing along to in harmony.  By mid-day, I had to get down to BootsTown Studio to finish up mixing with Wendy and Michael. When I got there they gave me the bad news:  “We’re not going to be able to finish all 11 songs.  You got to cut one.”  They recommended “In My Mind”  saying it just didn’t sound as “quality” as the rest of the tracks.

I asked for a moment to think and went into the drum booth to reclaim my stolen breath.  I was confused.  I felt so attached to “In My Mind” being on this record.  Who knows if I’ll ever make a second one, this might be its only chance to shine.  I walked back into the windowless control booth and announced “I want ‘In My Mind on there.  Let’s do what we need to to get it done.”  I felt the wind knocked out of my colleagues who’ve been killing themselves with 18-hour days to get these tracks done.  My guilt at their herculean efforts led to my relenting ½ way through the mix, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe the song’s not worth it.” I said.  “We’re all tired.”  I felt sick to my stomach leaving the song dead like roadkill on the battleground of the studio floor. It seemed to yelp as it joined the other discarded 2-inch tape on the chopping block.  By 3 am I was home looking through old drawings from 1979.  In the morning  I met up with Wendy on a park bench near a hot dog vendor.  “I’m afraid we might have to—“

She knew what I was going to say.  “Whatever Sal.  We’ll do whatever you want.”  I could have kissed her on the mouth.  We returned to the studio where Michael threw a silent fit but finished “In My Mind” in only an hour and a half.  Ahhhhhhhh.  I feel so much better.

Mixing is completed

New York City – Mixing at Whitney Huston’s Studio – June 24, 1998

I’ve decided to mix “Tomboy Bride” in New York at Whitney Houston’s studio.  Kipp connected me with Whitney’s engineer, Michael White, and he’s agreed to take on my project as long as we can finish all 11 songs in 5 days.  I’m here now, in the hot city with Wendy Woo and at the moment we’re working on “Sign of Rain.” 

My mom made a special trip down to the studio today.  It’s such a role reversal.  I spent my entire childhood and adolescence traveling to mid-town to her studio sessions, ordering grilled cheeses from take-out menus and finishing up homework assignments as musicians like Mic Jagger, Debbie Harry, Harry Belafonte, Ry Cooter, and every session player you’d ever want to meet passed through the reception area.  I drank Lipton tea by the bucket, downloaded receptionists with my latest relationship sagas, and between subjects I rewarded completed assignments with the arcade game of the month for the price of a quarter: Donkey Kong, Ms. Packman, Space Invaders, the car one I can’t remember the name of.

Today at Whitney’s I ordered Wendy, Michael my mom and I turkey subs. We ate while mom wheeled herself around on a console chair like a boss yelling half-chewed suggestions at Michael like “Fly it over.” “That’s the one.  Don’t touch it now” and “Buy it baby! buy it!”  Before she left for the day, she requested a copy of the track.  “I want to blare it through the streets of Martha’s Vineyard and scream ‘This is my DAUGHTER!”  I felt so so so so grateful for her love and tutelage and hand holding and accolades.  It’s her birthday tomorrow and as we finished the day I sketched out this letter to copy into a card I painted:

Mom wanted to know what I was going to do about distribution for the Record. “But it’s not really a record mama.” I explained, ” It’s more of a glorified demo.” I’m not sure I want to deal with retail or a professional distributor.  I’d have to deal with returns and comps and shrink-wrapping CDs. For now, I got myself a mailbox at a local Post Office in Boulder and a website “www.sallytaylor.com.”  I think I’ll take orders by snail mail for now, and test the waters just to see if there’s any interest.  I can also sell CDs at shows.  In total this record has cost me $7,778 plus a few dinners and brewskies for players who’ve refused payment. I just want to make my money back at this point.

Boulder, CO – Mom & Dad React to my Demo – April 5, 1998

I successfully handed out all 10 copies of my rough demo of songs on my trip to LA.  Some of the songs I recorded with “Not Eric,” now calling itself “Tiny Yellow Ducks.”  Others I recorded on my 4-trac in my apartment which feature the scratching skills of Fatty J who likes to get in on the action.  I felt weird about handing out my cassettes with their handwritten song titles.  It was so self-promoting and forward but when I was sure I was going to die on the airplane back to Denver I kept chanting through hyperventilating breaths “Everything is gonna be OK” and “Your babies (songs) are out there.”  And that made me feel reassured. 

I woke up to an enthusiastic message from Mom.  Overly enthusiastic in fact.  She was raving about my music.  “I just got the tape this morning and it’s so amazing.  I’ve only listened to the first 4 songs but I love ‘Complaints’ and ‘In My Mind’ is great and ‘Sign of Rain.’  The line about Alex liking when the weather matches how he feels inside is fabulous.”  It was sweet of her to overzealously compliment my music.  Before I put the cassette in the mail to her I told her how much her opinion meant to me and how vulnerable I felt about sending her my “Babies.”  She was excited for me but in my heart, I disbelieved her enthusiasm.  It felt too expensive and perhaps too elusive to claim.

Dad met in Boulder for lunch at “Dot’s Dinner with a bunch of my pals, musicians, record company execs, and Kipp, my new boyfriend.  Clustered into a red pleather booth inside the makeshift gas station, we bribed waiters for egg white omelets and talked shop. 

Back at Dad’s hotel room #300, I played him a couple of songs: “Cowboy” and “I Meant To” which he tweaked and twanked but said he liked a lot. “I’m blown away by what you do with your voice.” He told me, “Your soul really comes through in your music.” 

“That means a lot to me pop.” I said and of course, that was an understatement.

He asked me if I wanted to take Ben’s route into the music business:  “You know, find a manager, a record label, and a booking agent and go all in?” he asked, elbows on knees watching the floor like it were a taro card.   I Couldn’t tell if he was offering to help me or not.  “You’ve got what it takes to make it in the industry though I’d never wish this career on anybody.” He said.  “Being a musician, it’s a blue-collar gig my Sal. It takes a ton of elbow grease and grit and it ain’t easy on relationships either” He said. 

It was the first time I actually believed such a thing (a big famous-filled career with all the glitz and all the shit) was possible.  As I peered in at the possibility in the cloud bubble above my dad’s head, the idea looked not so appealing.  Too big, too scary, too fast.  Too many sharks swimming in the icy dark water.  So I said “No. No pop. I think I want to go it alone.”

Leaving Dad and walking back up the hill to my pad it hit me, I don’t really know all that goes into a music career.  You think I would, having grown up with two legendary musicians as parents but frankly, I don’t even think they fully know. 

As the sun dipped below the surface of the day I realized I wanted to create my own label.  I want to find my own band, I want to book my own gigs, and do my own PR until I know how much I’d pay someone not to have to do those jobs anymore.  I want a hands-on music business career. 

My pace picked up as the night grew sweater-worthy and I passed by the Fox Theater where people qued in Birkenstocks to see Zuba in concert.  The first thing I’m going to do next week is make a better recording of my demo tape, next, I’ll find a bunch of band mates and then. I’m going to buy a big ass van.